European edition, Saturday, June 9, 2007

WüRZBURG, Germany — The red and black banners swayed in the breeze, and a silver knight stood proudly, gleaming in the afternoon sun.

For students, faculty and friends of the Würzburg American Middle School, Friday’s closing ceremony was the last time the school colors and mascot would be on display.

Less than 100 students were on hand, a far cry from the more than 1,100 fifth- through eighth-graders who graced the halls when the school opened in 1990. Faculty, too, had shrunk, from 130 staff 17 years ago to 28 now.

One of several student, faculty and military speakers was eighth-grader Shaun Simpson, who said that the school was a welcoming place to learn, that all the students there knew what it was to be the “new kid,” and because of that, good friends were easy to find.

One science and social studies teacher, Bill Kowalski, who taught at the school since it opened its doors, said many of the remaining students will attend classes at Würzburg Elementary next year, albeit in their own wing. Alone among the teachers, Kowalski will be moving with the kids.

Some of the younger students will be returning to their old school building after just one year. “We don’t want the kids to feel like they were just turning around and going back to elementary school … we want them to be true middle schoolers,” Kowalski said.

Bavaria District Superintendent Mike Thompson, who spoke at the ceremony, said the closure leaves four pure middle schools and two middle/high schools in his district.

“We really thought the school would shut down last year,” Thompson said, “but there was a rumor that a unit might be moving here.”

No new units arrived, and with the dwindling population and announced base closure of Leighton Barracks in September 2008, Thompson said the remaining high and elementary schools will close after the next school year. Thompson also mentioned that with schools restructuring and combining faculty members, more opportunities will arise for the students.

Visiting from Washington to deliver the high school commencement address in Hohenfels, Germany, was Joe Tafoya, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity. Tafoya received the school flag after it was lowered by the Würzburg High School Junior ROTC color guard.

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