Students and their parents arrive for the first day of classes at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School on Yokota Air Base, Japan, Aug. 22, 2022.

Students and their parents arrive for the first day of classes at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School on Yokota Air Base, Japan, Aug. 22, 2022. (Juan King/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Representatives from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command visited this airlift hub in western Tokyo recently for parental focus groups that assess the quality of education at Defense Department schools.

The Pacific Theater Education Council met at the base Enlisted Club on Wednesday with parents of students at Yokota High and Yokota Middle schools and on Thursday with those from Yokota West and Joan K. Mendel elementary schools.

Base representatives denied a Stars and Stripes request to attend the meetings.

“These Focus Groups are open to the Community with children in 1 of the 4 schools on the installation. We kindly ask that these confidential and unguarded conversations be kept inside the confines of the PTEC,” Joshua Fly, 374th Air Wing school liaison program manager, said by email Tuesday.

Wing spokesman 1st Lt. Danny Rangel confirmed that the meetings took place.

“Focus groups were conducted with parents as well as teachers and students to assess program effectiveness and to solicit feedback,” he said in an email Friday. “The event is meant to observe DOD dependent education programs and assess educational environments in the Pacific theater.”

The council periodically visits base schools in the region to view successful educational programs and make recommendations for improving education overseas, according to the Department of Defense Education Activity website.

For example, during focus groups attended by Stars and Stripes in 2009, the council stopped at Sasebo Naval Base, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Misawa Air Base to hear from parents, students and teachers about their schools’ test scores lagging behind their stateside counterparts.

At the time, a military spouse at Sasebo, Kate Canady, said she was concerned about her middle-school son falling behind in algebra. His stateside friends were taking the subject a full year before it was available at the schools on the naval base in southern Japan.

Since then, DODEA test scores have improved, according to DODEA’s website.

In 2022, fourth- and eighth-grade students attending DODEA schools led the United States in scoring on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading and Mathematics Assessments.

Those students averaged from 15% to 23% higher than national average scores while the national scores decreased, according to DODEA.

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Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.

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