Block leave has DODDS-Europe plans up in the air
Stars and Stripes October 17, 2005
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Friday afternoon, students at the four schools around H.D. Smith Barracks in Baumholder were dismissed into a community anticipating a lot of free time.
The question now is, how many students will come back Monday morning?
Teachers and administrators with Department of Defense Dependents Schools are waiting to see what impact the 1st Armored Division’s three-week block leave, which runs through Nov. 7, will have on school attendance.
For most of the 5,550 soldiers based here, leave falls between the division’s return last weekend from training at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels, and deploying to Iraq next month, and many plan to travel to the U.S.
It’s still unclear how many parents will use the leave for family trips, and how many will use it for husband-and-wife time before the long separation, leaving their kids in class, said Peggy Hoffman-Schmidt, principal at Neubrücke Elementary School.
She sent an e-mail asking parents to give teachers travel dates and coordinate out-of-class assignments. So far, only one family out of perhaps 60 had complied. At Baumholder Junior/Senior High School, the school newsletter notified parents taking children out of school for block leave to get assignments prior to leaving. School officials even circulated a block leave request form confirming arrangements for extended absences have been made, said Reneé Thomas, Baumholder’s registrar.
A mass exodus would have a profound impact, from teachers with empty classrooms to school officials who have to make sure cafeterias are not serving too much food, said Thomas, Hoffman-Schmidt and others.
If parents fail to notify faculty, there could be anxious bus drivers waiting for children “who never miss the bus,” not realizing the kids are somewhere else, Hoffman-Schmidt said.
Block leave could even shape homework. Rather than pile on regular work, Hoffman-Schmidt said, she’d rather students create journals about their travels, blending fun and learning by recording time and distance to destinations or documenting visits to interesting places.
“I’d rather they do this than 45 math problems with no application to their trip.”
Teachers also would reshape lesson plans for those staying if a significant number of classmates are out for the duration, Hoffman-Schmidt said.
DODDS has no minimum attendance requirements, said David Ruderman, Deputy Public Affairs Officer at DODDS headquarters in Wiesbaden. “Teachers try to concentrate of each individual student and make sure that person doesn’t fall behind,” Ruderman said.
At Baumholder High, it appears only a few families are planning long trips, Thomas said, with most parents taking students out for long weekends. Soldiers can use only two of the three weeks, so at least a third of soldiers will be in Baumholder at any given time, she said.
School officials are assuming there will be last-minute travel plans, though parents should still alert teachers, Thomas said.
If students don’t make up missed assignments or tests, “they will get a failing grade,” she said.