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European edition, Saturday, August 25, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — The young students couldn’t help but be drawn to the shiny new toy.

At Wetzel Elementary School, a rocket ship is the centerpiece of a refurbished playground, a portion of which is still being worked on. But during the school’s open house Friday, children were pulled like magnets to the ship, eager to test it out.

“It’s not ready yet. You have to wait until Monday,” said teacher aide Pam Wilson as she attempted to shoo away the kids.

“I feel like such a mean person,” said Wilson, a reluctant playground guardian.

At Wetzel, the new playground equipment appears to be the only thing not quite ready for a new school year, which kicks off Monday. Hundreds of people showed up at the elementary school for the open house, where there was a carnival-like atmosphere.

Hot dogs were served, raffles were held, and students met their new teachers for the first time. Parents also visited classrooms and talked with school officials.

The purpose of the open house, Principal Helen Balio said, was to bring the school community together to help Such events also make for a more effective first day of school.

When classes start Monday, the students will already know their teachers, know their classrooms and have a certain comfort level, she said.

“On Monday, they’ll be ready to go,” Balio said. “We’re all about learning here.”

But as the final countdown to another school year begins, some students lamented how fast the time seems to fly.

“Summer was, like, only two weeks,” said sixth-grader Adrian Watkins.

On a brighter note, Adrian added that he was looking forward to testing out the new playground equipment.

His father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Freddie Marshall, said this year he intends to play an active role in the school community.

“Last year I was deployed. This time, I’ll get to be more involved with school. I’m looking forward to it,” said Marshall, the father of four Wetzel students.

At Wetzel, teachers say there’s a tradition of parental involvement and community spirit. The open house, which drew a couple hundred people, showcases how active the school community is, the teachers said.

“We’ve always had a lot of involvement here,” Wilson said.

There are 460 students enrolled at Wetzel this school year, about 60 more than initially anticipated, Balio said. To accommodate the increased number, DODDS officials moved quickly to add teachers in an effort to maintain proper class sizes, she said.

“We’re prepared,” Balio said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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