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Arionna Stevens, a first-grader at Wetzel Elementary School in Baumholder, Germany, walks to school Monday with her parents, Spc. Martin and Crystal Stevens. Martin Stevens is assigned to 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment.

Arionna Stevens, a first-grader at Wetzel Elementary School in Baumholder, Germany, walks to school Monday with her parents, Spc. Martin and Crystal Stevens. Martin Stevens is assigned to 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

Arionna Stevens, a first-grader at Wetzel Elementary School in Baumholder, Germany, walks to school Monday with her parents, Spc. Martin and Crystal Stevens. Martin Stevens is assigned to 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment.

Arionna Stevens, a first-grader at Wetzel Elementary School in Baumholder, Germany, walks to school Monday with her parents, Spc. Martin and Crystal Stevens. Martin Stevens is assigned to 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

Sigrid Ray takes a snapshot of her children's first day back to school as her husband, Staff Sgt. Ronald Ray, looks on Monday in Baumholder, Germany. The Rays have three students attending Wetzel Elementry School. Ronald Ray is assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.

Sigrid Ray takes a snapshot of her children's first day back to school as her husband, Staff Sgt. Ronald Ray, looks on Monday in Baumholder, Germany. The Rays have three students attending Wetzel Elementry School. Ronald Ray is assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

Nat Rabuse, Liam Aucremann and Jerry Wells, all 10 years old, and all starting 5th grade this year, head to class at Naples Elementary School.

Nat Rabuse, Liam Aucremann and Jerry Wells, all 10 years old, and all starting 5th grade this year, head to class at Naples Elementary School. (Lisa M. Novak / S&S)

Eugene McCloud and his son, Dumas, walk to school for the first day of the term at Naples Elementary School.

Eugene McCloud and his son, Dumas, walk to school for the first day of the term at Naples Elementary School. (Lisa M. Novak / S&S)

Students from Dorrie Meckes' first-grade class enjoy some books after completing the day's first assignment Monday at Wetzel Elementry School in Baumholder, Germany.

Students from Dorrie Meckes' first-grade class enjoy some books after completing the day's first assignment Monday at Wetzel Elementry School in Baumholder, Germany. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

Like flocks of migrating birds, school buses returned to their military base perches Monday across Europe.

One after another, 37 vehicles of varying sizes, shapes and colors passed onto Aviano Air Base in Italy and disgorged their passengers: hundreds of students attending the first day of the 2008-2009 school year in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system.

"This is a big undertaking right here," said Donald Woolson, the new assistant principal at the high school, marveling at groups of students passing by in relatively good order. "Fortunately, we have people who know how it works."

There were plenty of adults on hand to help students safely reach their classrooms. It was pretty much the case all around Europe, with more than 30,000 students returning to school after their summer break.

"It should be fun," said 9-year-old Dumas McCloud, as he walked to school with his father, Eugene McCloud, for his first day in third grade in Naples, Italy.

Smiles were in abundance at Lakenheath High School in England. The first day back had gone great, principal Kent Worford said Monday afternoon, with students assembling in the morning to get the low-down on rules, expectations and the like.

Students spent the rest of the day on an abbreviated schedule and meeting teachers, Worford said.

School enrollments are largely the same as last year, but some have grown.

With an enrollment of just more than 430, Bamberg American Middle/High School in Germany is up 150 students from last year as children from Schweinfurt join the student body.

Many of the students coming from Schweinfurt used to attend Würzburg American High, which shut its doors in June.

Principal Dominick Calabria and his staff are working to stymie a "Wolves vs. Barons" atmosphere and create one community.

By putting certain grades together during lunches and giving them common teachers — creating a "school within a school" — as Calabria put it, the hope is students will identify with each other.

"It seems to have gone pretty well [so far]," Calabria said.

In Naples, locker assignments, class schedules, school lunch, gym classes and book bags were the topics of discussion most of the morning.

Despite some 900 students showing up at Naples Elementary School, the first day back went fairly smoothly, according to the staff.

"This morning was pretty well-organized," said Michelle Ludwik, a special-education assistant. "We were all out here to greet the kids and help them find their way, so there wasn’t too much confusion."

A new initiative the schools are using this year is Grade Speed, for grades 4 through 12. It allows parents to access their children’s grades, assignments and attendance online.

"This is a great way to connect parents as partners in their children’s education," said Sandy Daniels, Naples High School principal. "It gives the parents the knowledge of what happens at school."

Aviano has just fewer than 1,300 students registered, from kindergarten through 12th grade in a multi-story complex about the size of a city block.

When they all arrive at around the same time, it poses some challenges. Heinz Schlipf, transportation operations specialist for Aviano schools, and several assistants were up to the task Monday, though.

"Now, we have to get [the buses] out of here and that’s just as big a hassle," he said, smiling.

Stripes reporters Lisa Novak, Geoff Ziezulewicz and Mark St.Clair contributed to this report.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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