Giessen students, staff cope as school's closing nears
April 12, 2007
GIESSEN, Germany — In the classrooms and locker-lined hallways, nothing indicates the end is near.
With report cards coming and the 2006-07 school year entering the final quarter, academics remain the focus at Giessen American Middle/High School.
But this year is unlike any other because the U.S. military is leaving Giessen, schools and all. And so, understandably, teachers and students are starting to wax nostalgically.
“I know every little nook and cranny of this place,” said teacher Oweida Cole, a 20-year school veteran of Giessen. “I could really get melodramatic as the time gets closer, but I do realize it’s time.”
The Giessen military community, which includes Friedberg, Butzbach and Bad Nauheim, is dissolving as part of the restructuring plan for U.S. forces in Europe. By the end of summer, only a small caretaker force will remain to shut it down.
In addition to Giessen, high schools are closing in London and Livorno, Italy, as well as a couple of primary schools.
Recently, several Giessen high-school teachers and students talked about their school and its pending closure. Much of the discussions occurred in the library, where school memorabilia is on display and a map made of construction paper charts everyone’s future home.
“It kind of helps the students and teachers who are in denial,” librarian Jan Jensen said of her effort to honor the school.
One exhibit included old newspaper articles chronicling the early years. The facility, originally just a high school, was opened in the fall of 1985. During construction, work crews found a 250-pound bomb left over from World War II on the site and there were occasional protests by the German Green Party.
A couple of teachers thought that was probably a blessing, given the area was forested and environmental concerns were heeded in construction.
Ellen Sheehan, an English teacher who has spent more than 20 years at the school, calls the campus the prettiest in DODDS-Europe. Sheehan, Cole and music teacher Eldon Kirkhum talked fondly of its appearance, purple rhododendrons, and red-and-white “fairytale” mushrooms that pop up every fall.
“I love this place,” Cole said as the conversation move from attributes to tributes.
She and her colleagues noted that students have responded well to the situation, which was further complicated by moms and dads deployed to Iraq until a few months ago.
“They just carried on, did their job,” Kirkhum said. “They held their heads high.”
An hour later, K.C. Brown was sitting in the library, his head tilted back.
“Hey,” he said, turning to fellow students Sasha Curry and C.J. Battle, “that was my soccer jersey my freshman year.”
Jensen, the librarian, spent months scrounging around for athletic jerseys, from petite gymnastic outfits to oversize football jerseys. They now dangle, their griffin mascot apparent, from metal clothes hangers wedged into the ceiling panels.
Curry, a junior, found Brown’s revelation amusing, which led to some good-natured teasing, all normal stuff, for teens.
“We fight like a family,” she said, “we act like a family, we have drama like a family, but we are still family.”
A member of the “family” will be returning June 8 to deliver the main graduation speech. Ladell Scott, who was in Brown’s and Battle’s shoes a decade ago, has made it big in the pharmaceutical world.
Those ties to the past — or at least the possibility of reconnecting to it — are what students and teachers say they will miss the most.
“All of us are going through the same thing,” Brown said. “When we all leave, we won’t have the opportunity to come back.”