Surging enrollment presents challenge at Ramstein High
Stars and Stripes August 27, 2006
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — While U.S. troop drawdowns in Europe have closed or shrunk base schools throughout the region, Ramstein High School is seeing an unprecedented and unexpected surge in students.
The rise in enrollment had administrators and teachers scrambling last week to figure out how to squeeze everyone into overcrowded classrooms before the first day of classes on Monday.
Principal Greg Hatch arrived at Ramstein three weeks ago and has seen enrollment rise to it highest level in history, exceeding last year by nearly 100 students. This year, the freshman class will have more than 80 students more than planned, and some are still registering.
“It just keeps climbing,” Hatch said Friday.
All Defense Department high schools in the Kaiserslautern area have seen enrollment either stay the same or go up. But Ramstein has seen the biggest jump after setting an enrollment record last year.
As of Friday, more than 1,070 students registered for classes at Ramstein. Five years ago, the school had 922 students, according to school statistics. It will again reign as the largest American military base high school in the Defense Department system.
Why the school is seeing such huge numbers isn’t exactly known. Transformation — the military’s catchword for the movement, consolidation and closure of bases and commands — is the popular explanation.
Another reason is that many parents choose to live in the Ramstein High district because it has nicer facilities than Kaiserslautern High School, which has 500-plus students at the Vogelweh base. The two schools are only a few miles away, but the contrasts in their buildings and campuses are striking.
No matter the reason, fitting everyone into classes at Ramstein will require a bit of creativity and a lot of patience.
Just three days before the start of school, Hatch tried to add a teacher. For qualified and certified math teachers, there is an immediate opening.
“Of course, we’re going to have to start out with a sub,” Hatch said.
But adding more teachers won’t resolve the lack of space. There are no plans to expand. That means students and teachers will go into the year with the space they have, not the space they want.
They will have to play what could be called “musical classrooms,” bouncing from room to room. Teachers who ordinarily prepare their lesson plans in their classrooms will have to clear out to make room for another teacher’s class.
Some classes will have nearly 30 students. A few teachers privately fear overcrowding could increase disciplinary problems.
“It just means added work and added stress for everyone,” said one instructor, who didn’t want to be named. “But the ones who will suffer the most will be the students.”
Fred Lopez, a guidance counselor at Ramstein since 1993, acknowledges the year is shaping up to be a tremendous challenge.
“By the end of the year, I’ll probably want to jump out my window,” he said jokingly.
Fortunately, he’s on the first floor.
A few high school seniors said that during the last couple of years they have become accustomed to the overcrowding and take it all in stride. They say there are some advantages of having a big school.
“Last year, I saw a different person I didn’t know every day,” said Stacie Warwick, 17.
Most students understand the situation and will adapt, Lopez said. Adults often take longer to adjust.
Last year, the school faced similar problems due to enrollment. Lopez tells a story about how the stress began showing on him, leading a student to tap him on the shoulder and say calmly, “It’s OK, Mr. Lopez. Why don’t you take a break?”
He did. But he almost didn’t come back.
“I did because these kids are worth it,” he said. “That’s why I always keep coming back.”