DODDS-Pacific students head back to school
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — If there’s such a thing as a collective sigh of relief, it may have been heard Monday — from parents — as Department of Defense Dependents Schools across the Pacific kicked off the new school year.
The exceptions: Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Schools there postponed opening until Tuesday, to let Typhoon Chaba clear out.
At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, students at Edgren High School hardly seemed to notice the steady downpour Monday morning as they compared schedules and swapped summer vacation stories outside in the rain.
The best part of being back at school had nothing to do with textbooks and tests, said Amber Van Hoesen, one of a close-knit group of eighth-grade girls. It was “seeing my friends and socializing.”
Pal Britney Jeffries said she was excited because “we’re not the babies anymore.” Grades seven through 12 attend Edgren. As eighth-graders, the girls can leave campus for lunch, a privilege, they said, not available to seventh-graders.
For some incoming seventh-graders, making the transition from middle or elementary school to the high school was scary.
Devin Singleton and Wesley Crabtree huddled in a hallway corner Monday morning before the first bell, waiting to go into mini-digital and keyboarding class. Their thoughts on the first day of school?
“It’s nervous,” Devin said.
“It’s scary with all the ninth- and tenth-graders,” agreed Wesley.
Still, Wesley said he was looking forward to mini-digital, a class “where you play with computers and digital cameras.”
Devin said he figured keyboarding would be OK, too, but “I didn’t even want to come to school because I’m nervous.”
Misawa’s three schools also welcomed 48 new teachers: 25 at Sollars Elementary School, six at Cummings Elementary School and 17 at Edgren.
More than 8,500 students are attending the dozen schools on Okinawa, with more coming in, said Dr. Gayle Vaughn-Wiles, Okinawa District superintendent.
Vaughn-Wiles spent Monday morning at Amelia Earhart Intermediate School on Kadena. During an opening ceremony, she welcomed students, parents, teachers and staff and told them, “I’m expecting great things.”
The new school year was rung in — literally: The school’s hand bell choir performed Monday morning to a packed gymnasium of students and parents.
“If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will … well, I know what will for parents,” joked Principal Ted Turnipseed.
Also welcoming students back was a performance by the school’s Taiko drum group and fifth-grader Gabrielle LaPerriere singing “God Bless America.”
“I’m really excited because it’s a new year and you can clean up your mistakes from last year and work on your goals this year,” said Gabrielle, who admitted she was getting bored by summer break.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Karl Morsey, from the 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, also said he was happy school was starting — “but I think my wife was more ready than I was. She’s the one home with them all day,” Morsey said of his wife, Michelle. They are the parents of AEIS fourth-grader Holden and Bob Hope Primary School second-grader Hayley — who, her father said, asked every day last week if school was going to start the next day.
At Osan American High School on Osan Air Base, Monday meant both a new school year and new school for Nichole Mullin, 14, who entered 10th grade after moving to South Korea from Guam.
“It was kind of hard to sleep” Sunday night, she said Monday as scores of students looked over class assignments and chatted with friends.
As a new face, Nichole said she was feeling a bit out of place. “You don’t know anybody and they just stare at you, so it’s kind of creepy,” she said. But she was hopeful. “I probably will get, like, friends and everything.”
And she hopes her time at Osan will help “get me into a good college.”
John Shoults, 14, who moved to the area from Misawa, said he too felt tension. “It was like nervousness. Because it was a new school.”
But like Nichole, John, a ninth-grader, is hoping for a good education. “I’m expecting this school to be better because I heard a lot of good things about it,” he said. “Like a lot of scholarships.”
Monday was a milestone for Megan MacWilliam, 12. “I was excited, because it’s my first day of junior high,” Megan said. Part of her excitement, she said, was the prospect of attending a school with both middle and high school students. “There are going to be a lot of people here.”
The first day back also can generate similar reactions in teachers.
“With the new kids, especially with the seventh-graders, you have to teach them locker combinations, how to work the lock,” said Osan music teacher Bill Waldron. “The first day a teacher has to be very patient because students don’t know where they’re going. So you have to be sensitive to that.
“You just have enough time to introduce yourself, go over the ground rules and answer questions that are pertinent to the operation of the class. And then the bell rings,” Waldron said, smiling.
—Jennifer Svan and Franklin Fisher contributed to this report.