BAUMHOLDER, Germany — A banner on the way into the Neubruecke Elementary school parking lot reads “SLOW — SCHOOL STARTING.”

But inside, plans to make the school the center of community activity are in high gear as Baumholder faces its second deployment in five years.

“I want [Neubruecke] to be a social place for parents to come,” said Peggy Hoffman-Schmidt, Neubruecke Elementary School principal.

There’s a systemwide focus on making schools more vital, with principals having considerable latitude to tailor Department of Defense Dependents Schools’ initiatives to what works best locally, said Frank O’Gara, spokesman at DODDS headquarters in Wiesbaden.

With the 2005-’06 school year beginning on the eve of a 1st Armored Division deployment, principals at 1st AD schools are planning more events and programs to entice parents into school — more reasons to come from entertainment to moral support.

“I want kids to hang around,” said Danny Robinson, Baumholder American High School’s new principal.

“We’re going to offer something for every age level,” said Bill Rose, Smith Elementary School principal.

A new parent support group will give spouses “a nice place to sit and chat with neighbors,” said Helen Balilio, principal at Wetzel Elementary. “We’re going to come through this fine.”

Life will change drastically with the deployment. Most of Baumholder’s roughly 5,000 2nd Brigade and Division Artillery troops will deploy to Iraq this fall.

This time around, there seems to be an added impetus to make schools the counterbalance to the uncertainty of war. “We find that during a deployment the kids don’t necessarily want to go home because it’s not as stable of an environment,” said Eric Goldman, principal of General H.H. Arnold High School in Wiesbaden.

The high school “is the kids’ rock,” Goldman said.

“What we’ve found from experience is that the routine and the focus on learning is what’s important,” O’Gara said. “The child is counting on that; that those things are going to happen, no matter what else is happening in their lives … how upside down their world may be.”

Those routines promise to get a lot more interesting at local schools, though principals are still finalizing extra-duty budgets.

¶ At Neubruecke, teachers are planning such things as evening barbecues, spaghetti dinners, a new German language and culture class for parents and myriad after-school activities such as a student yearbook and school newspaper club, Hoffmann-Schmidt said.

¶ At Smith, Rose is planning for a family math club. Parents would work along with their kids, and even brush up their own skills. “We’d start with fourth- through sixth-graders, but could open it up to younger children,” Rose said.

¶ The parent organization at Wetzel plans at least two major events each month, which began with a meet and greet and barbecue last Friday, Balilio said. She’s also planning to create a Parent Center at the school where parents can leave their preschoolers when they come to volunteer.

¶ Baumholder High will offer more student theater, plays and concerts during the deployment, Robinson said. In addition, Robinson is encouraging community members to use the school for adult activities.

“I’ve told [base commander] Lt. Col. [James] Larsen that we’re available,” he said. “This isn’t Danny Robinson’s school. This is the community’s school.”

Russ Rizzo contributed to this story.

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