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Devin Kirkbride would have graduated from London Central High this month if the venerable American school hadn’t closed last year.

Instead, he spent his senior year at Kingham Hill School, a private British institution where a number of American students enrolled after London Central closed following years of declining enrollment.

Kirkbride didn’t get to attend a senior prom, play varsity basketball, and will not get to don a cap and gown for the traditional American high school graduation ceremony when he finishes his studies at Kingham Hill next month. But the sacrifices have been worth it, he said.

"Overall, I think the education I’m getting is far superior because it’s more hands-on and there aren’t as many students in the class. I liked having my senior year here because it gave me an opportunity to be a foreign student but still get to live with my family," he said.

"I really wanted to wear my cap and gown, that upset me a little bit, but I’m ready to graduate," said Kirkbride, who will be taking online classes through Louisiana State University while traveling Europe next year.

Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe is spending $28 million this year to educate 2,017 American students like Kirkbride in Europe and Africa, who live in areas with no Defense Department schools. The State Department determines the stipend the students’ parents receive, which is $44,900 per year, per student in the U.K.

"The most challenging thing is the (students’) initial transition" into foreign schools, said Pam deFies, lead educator for the non-Department of Defense schools program at DODDS-Europe.

"But we work closely with the schools and once they settle in, the children usually do fine," she said.

About 200 students from RAFs Croughton, Fairford and Welford were displaced by London Central’s closing last year. Though parents initially were concerned about the prospect of sending their children to British school, the process has been smooth for the most part, said Kay Hilley, a DODDS-Europe transition specialist and former London Central math teacher.

"The biggest worry was on the difference between the two school systems," Hilley said.

British schools essentially only require students to attend school up until the age of 16. After that, the equivalent of the 11th and 12th grades are spent preparing for university studies. Many of the advanced-level courses taken during those two years count for college credit in the U.S.

DODDS-Europe not only tracks students who are in foreign schools but also helps arrange American high school diplomas for those who choose that option, which has gone a long way in helping parents and students feel more comfortable with the change, Hilley said.

What’s more, Kingham Hill and Rendcomb College, another private British school that has attracted a lot of students from the nearby bases, have developed American studies programs for the onslaught of U.S. students. That helps prepare them for a return to stateside schools.

"If they don’t get things like U.S. history and government they’re going to have to make those up if they transfer to an American school," said Stacey Scarisbrick, director of American studies at Rendcomb.

Scarisbrick, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve with a doctoral degree in education, took the job at Rendcomb last year after serving as commander of the 422nd Air Base Squadron at RAF Croughton during the London Central transition.

Along with the American studies program, developing a close relationship between the school and the bases has been key for the American students who attend Rendcomb, she said.

"Parents feel very comfortable that their kids are here," she said. "It’s such a great opportunity for them to experience a new culture."

Devin Kirkbride’s dad agrees.

"I’ve been extremely impressed," said Tech. Sgt. Keith Houin, with the 422nd Air Base Group at RAF Croughton. "It makes such as difference to know the school has the desire to make it the best experience for the American students."


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