‘21st-century school’ opens in Wiesbaden as students return to class

Sandra Whitaker, the new principal at the new Wiesbaden High School, center, talks to freshmen during orientation on the first day of the 2017-18 school year, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. The orientation was held in a multipurpose room off the central commons area.


The new Wiesbaden High School, DODEA's first "21st-century school," opened Monday, the first day of DODEA-Europe's 2017-18 school year.
Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes


The future has arrived at Wiesbaden High School in Germany — and it looks nothing like a traditional classroom.

Monday was the first day back to school for most students at U.S. military bases across Europe. In Wiesbaden, the occasion was marked by the opening of the Department of Defense’s first “21st-century school,” a $52 million facility intended to promote more collaborative learning via open, shared and flexible instructional spaces instead of the traditional shoebox design.

“We’re really, really excited to be the first 21st-century school,” said first-year principal Sandra Whitaker.

The school’s three stories center around a commons area from which six “neighborhoods” branch. Instruction occurs here within four “studios” with glass walls that can open to accommodate larger groups, Whitaker said.

“I think that’s just going to allow so much flexibility for different types of projects and groupings of kids,” she said.

Each neighborhood includes its own common area, as well as smaller instructional spaces and areas where teachers can collaborate and “share a common space for their desks,” Whitaker said.

Other features of the new school are a performance theater and a science, technology, engineering and math wing. The wing includes three computer labs, as well as engineering and physics labs.

Senior Johnny Wortmann said Monday he was happy to be out of the “portables,” the temporary classrooms set up while the new school was being built, but he wasn’t so sure the new design was better than the old. “It’s just kind of this whole New Age learning thing,” he said.

Whether the new building sparks learning remains to be seen, said Lee Carter, an English teacher.

“At the end of the day, the kids are kids and school is school,” she said. “We certainly have the advantage of having a beautiful facility that can optimize teaching.”

As of Monday, 500 students were enrolled in grades nine to 12, Whitaker said. Across eight countries in Europe, Department of Defense Education Activity officials were projecting a total enrollment of about 28,000 students in 65 schools.

While the portables are gone from Wiesbaden, they remain for high school students at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. The new Spangdahlem MIddle/High School is slated to be completed in 2019. It will replace Bitburg Middle/High School, which closed in June.

High schoolers in Kaiserslautern, meanwhile, have to wait one more year for their new, 21st-century school, slated to be ready by the fall of 2018.

That date can’t come soon enough, now that the school’s entire upper floor has been closed because of roof damage.

“During a routine facility inspection this summer, it was discovered that a few wood beams in the roof support system had become overstressed, most likely due to age,” DODEA-Europe spokesman Will Griffin said about the school, which was built in 1952.

The repair work will affect 22 classrooms and is expected to last through December, he said. Classes will be temporarily shifted to the first floor.

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Second-graders at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany laugh and sing along while art teacher Jules Fritz plays some silly songs on the guitar at the end of art class on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.

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