(See photos at end of story)

DEXHEIM, Germany — What started in a little red school house decades ago ended with balloons and ballads.

On Friday, the staff at Dexheim Elementary School watched their students depart for summer vacation, well aware that none would return in August for another round of learning. After more than 50 years, the school has closed for good as part of the ongoing military drawdown in Europe.

"Today we embrace Dexheim Elementary School, for the last time," Ora C. Flippen-Casper, the school principal, said at the afternoon ceremony, held outdoors. "We thank you all for your unwavering support of our school."

The students of Dexheim are different than most, according to Elizabeth Walker, the Heidelberg District Superintendent for DODDS-Europe. Several years ago, during a school visit, Walker learned that students were actually interested in extending the school day by an hour or two, remarkable as that may seem.

Army Lt. Col. Dale Critzer, the local commander who preceded Walker to the podium, said the school’s reputation was such that families new to the area worked to get their child through the door. He characterized the school setting, as well as Anderson Barracks, as quiet, safe, friendly and beautiful.

"I cannot believe this place is closing its gates," Critzer said. Dexheim is "the best elementary school in the region, if not in all of U.S. Army Europe."

Gitte Wolff, a 38-year veteran of the school, also addressed the gathering. She carried with her a couple of pictures of Dexheim from the earlier years. The original school, located in what is now the Army Community Service facility, had just three classrooms.

Over the years a new school was built adjacent to the original facility. Wolff said at its peak, the elementary school had an enrollment of 360 students. This year’s roster was only a quarter of that, and by Friday there were just 32 on hand.

At the closing ceremony, students sang songs, released helium-filled balloons and inhaled sweet slices of cake.

"It’s sad," 11-year-old Michelle Redman said of the closure. "It’s a nice place. I’m just going to have to get used to it."

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