Students reunite with friends as new school year begins at Pacific bases

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 29, 2011

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — They came carrying new backpacks and binders, wearing fresh outfits and the caps of their favorite sports teams.

The sounds of laughter and chatter filling the air Monday morning could only mean one thing: it was back to school for the more than 22,000 Department of Defense school students across the Pacific.

At Sasebo Naval Base’s E.J. King, which serves as both a middle and a high school, the excitement was palpable. For some, the excitement soon gave way to angst as lockers wouldn’t open and schedules needed to be adjusted.

“Summer is boring,” said 11th-grader Jenna Canup as she chatted with friends outside. Canup was especially pleased with her schedule this year.

“I got a lot of the classes I wanted,” she said with a smile.

In the high school, teacher Tom Heitstuman didn’t waste any time in his marine biology class for juniors and seniors. By 8:30 a.m., students were already deep into an experiment making seawater.

“I’m excited about setting the bar higher [this year],” said E.J. King High School principal, Dr. Gail Awakuni. “It might be tougher for our kids to receive their A’s... We’re looking for higher test scores.”

Sydney Jacobson, a fourth-grader at Joan K. Mendel Elementary at Yokota Air Base, said summer was short, but she was excited to return to school and see her friends.

“Today’s the first day of school, I can’t believe it’s here,” fourth-grader Jackson Salmon added, saying that he was particularly looking forward to studying math this year.

Tech Sgt. Debra Revell of the 374th Maintenance Operations Squadron at Yokota, couldn’t help but experience a wide range of emotions as she watched her youngest son start kindergarten.

“I’m a little sad today,” Revell said. “My baby is going to kindergarten.”

Revell and her family, who recently moved to Japan, said her two sons were really excited about starting school and getting a chance to make new friends.

In Seoul, the long-awaited opening of Seoul American Middle School was picture-perfect Monday morning as excited teachers greeted anxious, nervous and hopeful students.

“I’m very excited to see new faces,” said Principal David Dinges. “I love to see these students meet old friends, see new faces and most of all experience the new school year.”

Students made no effort to hide their enthusiasm during a break between classes.

“The first day has been good,” said sixth-grader Nick Pavek. “I didn’t do much during the summer, so I am glad to be here with my old friends.”

Stripes reporters Alfredo Jimenez and Grant Okubo contributed to this report.


First-graders at Joan K. Mendel at Yokota Air Base, Japan, head off to class following an orientation ceremony welcoming students back Monday.


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