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Across the Pacific on Monday morning, alarm clocks will screech, and sleepy students will board buses, anticipating reunions with friends, dreading the first homework assignment and ruing the end of summer.

It’s back-to-school time for more than 20,000 students in 41 Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific schools.

Many changes are in store for the 2004-05 school year, from improved science labs to more course offerings and stricter academic requirements.

Math geniuses might delight in a new, third-year math class offered at the high school level, while language arts lovers can read literature from around the world in a new honors English dual course for sophomores.

Perhaps the biggest change impacts freshmen: The Class of 2008 will be the first required to earn 26 credits — instead of 24 — to graduate. This year’s ninth-graders also will need a cumulative 2.0 grade point average to don cap and gown — a requirement that went into effect last year for the Class of 2007.

“We’re raising the bar academically,” said Stephanie Steadman, freshman counselor at Kadena High School on Okinawa.

“We’ve increased the requirements for math, we’ve increased graduation requirements, and we’ve put a mandatory GPA on high school graduation.”

DODDS Pacific Deputy Director Steven Bloom said the more rigorous academics are to “ensure that DODDS Pacific graduates are highly competent in terms of their ability to apply to any college, university or technical program.”

DODDS Pacific is also expanding its professional technical program, offering at some high schools a two-year certification course in culinary arts and lodging management.

The program prepares juniors and seniors for post-secondary employment and training opportunities in restaurants and hotels, said Ed Pfeifer, DODDS Pacific deputy chief of education. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re college-bound or non-college- bound.”

Projected enrollment numbers as of Aug. 25 for the school year stand at 25,769, a count that includes Japan (10,895), Okinawa (8,494), South Korea (3,819), and — new to DODDS Pacific — Guam (2,561). The addition of Guam students raises the total enrollment over last year’s 25,117 students.

“We’re not there yet,” Bloom said, noting that 24,154 students are enrolled throughout the Pacific, but the numbers usually peak by Sept. 30.

A dozen new principals and assistant principals will greet students at schools Monday, but the biggest administrative change in DODDS Pacific is the addition of the Guam district.

On July 1, DODDS Pacific assumed administrative control of Guam’s Defense Department schools from Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools’ headquarters in Peachtree, Ga. The transfer places all overseas DOD schools in the Pacific under the same leadership; Guam schools remain under DDESS in name only.

Here’s a look at new requirements, programs and courses across DODDS Pacific this year:

Math, English and more

“The theme for the school year is ‘Math Matters,’” Bloom said. “For the last year, we have placed continued emphasis on math support for students in high school.”

This year, that support translates into math labs for Algebra I, geometry and third-year math at all DODDS Pacific high schools. Pre-Algebra was eliminated, though algebraic concepts are infused within math standards for grades five through eight, Bloom said.

Students are identified for a lab based on their TerraNova math scores: Anyone scoring below the 50th percentile is placed in the appropriate lab unless their parents request otherwise.

“We have five labs for Algebra I, and they’re all full,” Steadman said of Kadena High School. “We will open more labs if there’s a need.

“It’s not punitive. It’s certainly to help them,” she said.

Discrete Math is a new third-year math course covering topics such as polling and analyzing populations, systems management and theoretical problems.

In the arts, sophomores may enroll in a new English honors program that integrates two courses: Honors English 10 with emphasis on world literature and Honors World History with emphasis on world literature.

“At the same time they’re learning about world cultures, they’re reading the literature of that culture,” Bloom said. “It’s a two-hour block of very rigorous, academically challenging work in English and social studies.”

While high-schoolers tackle new math and English offerings, reading and the Pacific Literacy project is a focus in kindergarten through sixth grade. The three- layer intervention program provides quality core instruction and support for struggling readers, Bloom said.

“The whole key is to accurately diagnose the reading problems and then provide really focused and targeted intervention,” he said. The program, among other things, places a literary facilitator in each school to help teachers and specialists with their approach to poor readers.

Tougher road to graduation

Incoming ninth-graders now must earn 26 credits — instead of 24 — to graduate, with an additional half-credit of physical education and 1.5 elective credits required. Students also are required to earn two credits in professional technical studies, half of which must be in computer technology.

The two extra credits, along with the mandatory 2.0 GPA, means students will have to work harder, Steadman said. Athletes and anyone else who participates in extracurricular activities already must maintain a 2.0 GPA on a weekly basis, she said. “It’s just putting that requirement to all the students.”

With DODDS students so transient, it remains to be seen what will happen when a senior transfers to a DODDS Pacific school with less than a 2.0. Bloom said in that case, the student and parent would be invited to discuss the issue with the principal or counselor, perhaps looking at alternative ways to meet the requirements.

Mapping out their futures

For teenagers who only think ahead to next week’s big meet or exam, or for those overwhelmed by post-secondary choices, help is on the way. This fall all students in grades seven through 12 will receive a three-part packet, entitled “Preparing for Your Future Now,” developed by Department of Defense Education Activity and Military Child Education Coalition, said Angela Mahon, DODDS Pacific pupil personnel services coordinator. The packet includes two CD-ROMs and an “academic passport” booklet that provide parents and students tips, ideas and recommendations for plotting a successful course to high school graduation and beyond.

“It helps kids frame and focus their decisions so they can fulfill their post-secondary plans and dreams,” Mahon said.

Tips include considering National Honor Society if one is college-bound and maintaining a résumé all four years of high school to make the process of seeking teacher recommendations easier.

Steadman said schools began issuing the packet about three years ago but this year it’s revised and updated with much more information.

“Parents are the ones that just go crazy about it,” she said. “They can actually see there’s just a few more years and ‘Johnny’ needs to have a plan in place so he has a direction after high school.”

Complementing the six-year planner is “My Road,” a Web-based college- and career- planning program for middle- and high-schoolers. Students 13 and older will receive accounts this fall to enable them to log in and use the program at school or at home. They’ll be able to complete personality assessments, explore careers and college majors based on interests, search colleges, read advice from career professionals, maintain student portfolios, and much more, Mahon said.

College applications also are available at the site.

Facility upgrades

No new schools are opening this school year in DODDS Pacific, but construction is scheduled to begin early next year on a $26.9 million high school on Guam, according to DODDS Pacific officials. Estimated completion date is July 2006.

A new McCool elementary and middle school is also planned for DODDS Pacific on Guam; $39.1 million is budgeted for the project expected to finish by July 2007.

Other major construction includes:

• A $7.6 million building addition at Taegu Elementary and High School at Camp George, South Korea, by July 2007.

• The current Seoul Elementary, Middle and High schools in South Korea are to be replaced by July 2008, with new location to be determined; U.S. Forces Korea is to coordinate any relocation plans, according to DODDS Pacific officials.

• The existing Lester Middle School on Camp Lester, Okinawa, is to be returned to the government of Japan and replaced on Camp Foster, west of the new post office, by July 2010.

Many facilities throughout DODDS Pacific received upgrades during the summer. Yokota High School, Japan, starts the new school year with five renovated science labs, a $589,000 project. Also at Yokota, work began this summer on new classroom additions at Yokota East and West elementary schools to help meet requirements for full-day kindergarten and a reduced teacher-pupil ratio of 1 to 18 in grades one through three, DODDS Pacific officials said. In total, about $15.5 million was funded this summer for major construction, renovation, repair and maintenance projects, from playground replacements and power upgrades to roof repairs.

— Staff reports

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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