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‘I get to actually meet my friends’: More DODEA students return to class as virus threat eases

Students head to their first day of in-person classes at Nile C. Kinnick High School at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.

AKIFUMI ISHIKAWA/STARS AND STRIPES

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 28, 2020

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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Though the fall semester for Defense Department schools began more than a month ago, students of the four base schools here on Monday returned to the classroom for the first time in more than six months.

Freshman Emma Snyder, 15, posed for a faux first-day-of-school photo with her siblings at about 7:30 a.m. before heading into Kinnick High School.

While students at Kinnick, Yokosuka Middle and Sullivans and Ikego Elementary schools began remote learning on Aug. 24, they hadn’t been taught on campus since the coronavirus pandemic closed U.S. schools on military bases across Japan on March 19.

“Now I get to actually meet my friends and hang out with them,” Snyder said.

The Department of Defense Education Activity requires all bases under Health Protection Condition-Charlie, which indicates a substantial risk of the coronavirus spreading, or higher to close their school buildings and instead provide online instruction.

Yokosuka was under condition Charlie in August when school began but moved to condition Bravo, a moderate risk, on Sept. 14. Teachers and administrators spent the following two weeks preparing for the return to in-person instruction, DODEA Pacific East Superintendent Judy Allen said in a letter to parents a day later.

Extra precautions are required this year to prevent the coronavirus’ spread, such as social distancing, wearing face masks and regular hand-washing and sanitizing, according to DODEA’s operational guidelines. In letters from the schools, parents were encouraged to teach their children what to expect with the changes.

Navy spouse Daren Poindexter’s daughters Phoenix Poindexter, 7, and Cadence Poindexter, 8, were well aware of the new rules as they waited for class to begin at Yokosuka’s Sullivans Elementary.

“Stay six feet away (from others),” Cadence said, while Phoenix worried her face mask would get “hot.”

“I only got five masks, but we’re going to get more,” Phoenix said. “I’ve got one with dinosaurs.”

Poindexter said he hoped returning to school would offer his daughters a sense of normalcy often lost during the pandemic.

“They need other people in their lives other than their parents and each other,” he said.

Some parents, such as Navy spouse Ryoko Hahn, said the return to brick-and-mortar schools would bring some normalcy to their own lives, as well. Hahn said she had to adjust her work schedule at a local electronics store so her children wouldn’t be home alone while schooling remotely.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s been so long, and it felt like we were isolated. The kids missed being kids.”

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

Sullivans Elementary School students line up for their first day of in-person classes at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.
AKIFUMI ISHIKAWA/STARS AND STRIPES