New year brings new policies at DODDS schools
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Ah, the devil is in the details, even at the schoolhouse.
Teachers and administrators at Neubruecke Elementary were explaining new policies and fine-tuning enrollments Tuesday as several Department of Defense Dependents Schools initiatives come on line for 2004/2005 at all schools at U.S. military bases across Germany.
It’s all part of life at small elementary schools trying to comply with new DODDS requirements for full-day kindergarten and decreased class sizes.
But some details hadn’t filtered down to parents, such as Staff Sgt. Richard Kobelt and Angela Kobelt, who said they weren’t clear why their son Matthew, 5, wouldn’t be starting class until Sept. 13, rather than going Monday to a kindergarten class that’s split between first-graders and kindergartners.
“It’s tough for Matthew to watch on the sidelines” as brother Christopher, a fifth-grader, and sister Christiana, who’s in seventh grade, head to school, Angela Kobelt said.
By contrast, Katy Alden, 5, started kindergarten Tuesday, going to a multiage class with both kindergartners and first-graders, said her mother, Dr. Carol Joriman, who called the mixed class concept “an excellent idea.”
The differing schedules for children in the same grade at the same school allow small schools such as Neubruecke, with only 185 total enrollment, to offer full-time kindergarten — now mandated by DODDS.
Matthew will have an experience very different from Katy — his teacher will visit him at his home this week, a part of the DODDS full-day kindergarten initiative.
Crystal Newby, who will be Matthew’s kindergarten teacher at Neubruecke, and her assistant, Heidi Smith, will spend 20 or 30 minutes at each child’s house getting to know the pupil and the family.
The idea is to alleviate the child’s separation anxiety at leaving parents for school, Newby said.
Kindergartners benefit from home visits by feeling more at ease with a teacher who’s no longer a “stranger,” but a person who came to their home, she said. Teachers benefit by being able to draw on personal details about pupils’ lives, Newby said: “I know they have a cat named Socks. Their favorite book is ‘The Three Little Pigs’ or whatever. They share a room with their brother.”
If parents prefer that the teacher not visit the home, meetings take place on neutral ground.
Both Katy and Matthew’s parents say their children are ready for school. It’s up to DODDS officials to mix and match to get representative classes while trying to keep kindergarten through third-grade classes at a target of 18 children, said Beverly Erdmann, instructional systems specialist, early childhood education, at DODDS’ Bavaria District Office in Kitzingen.
“We knew we’d have more multiage classes as we reduced class sizes,” Erdmann said. The intent is for those classes to be a “typical” classroom in that they’re a mix of genders, abilities and other pupil characteristics, arranged by school counselors, she said.
The new school year is the fifth and final year for implementation of two major initiatives, said Frank O’Gara, spokesman at DODDS headquarters in Wiesbaden. They are:
The reduced pupil/teacher ratio initiative calls for a target ratio of no more than 18 pupils per teacher for kindergarten through third grade, O’Gara said.The full-day kindergarten initiative established full-day programs at all elementary schools. Only Aviano, Italy, will not offer the program, because of construction delays, O’Gara said.A related — though separate — initiative is multiage classrooms, where mixed-age groups of children remain with the same teacher for several years, a teaching philosophy increasing in popularity in the United States, O’Gara said. Children are randomly selected and balanced by age, ability, special-needs children and gender. These groupings are designed to benefit pupils, not for reasons of economics, curriculum, or convenience, according to the DODDS Web site.
However, O’Gara said, at small schools such as Neubruecke, mixed classes may be a necessity if there are too few children to make single-grade classes impractical.
An informal teacher review of the home visit program received an “overwhelmingly” positive response, Erdmann said. DODDS has not surveyed parents on the visits, she said. But DODDS officials, she said, found in preschool classes that children often talk about the visit “all year long. ‘Remember that time you came to my house …?’”