‘It’s nice to see the kids again’: More DODEA schools in Japan open for classroom learning
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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The superintendent for Department of Defense Education Activity schools on Okinawa watched as a line of students moved along a hallway from the library to a classroom for second period Monday at Kubasaki High School.
Jimmy Journey smiled. Just having them in school for the first time in six months was a monumental step, he said.
“It’s nice to see the kids again,” said Journey, who was on hand as schools on Okinawa reopened their classrooms following months of remote learning due to the pandemic.
Not since late March had students been inside the 13 Pacific South schools. They expressed relief and happiness that in-person sessions were finally happening.
“I missed my friends. I missed the structure” of classroom learning, said Kubasaki senior Lily Leopold.
U.S. bases on Okinawa moved three weeks ago from a substantial risk of the coronavirus spreading to a moderate risk — or from Health Protection Condition-Charlie to condition Bravo — permitting schools to reopen under DODEA guidelines.
Most DODEA schools in Japan opened on the first official day of school, Aug. 24.
Schools also reopened at Camp Zama near Tokyo on Monday, three weeks after U.S. Army Garrison Japan transitioned to condition Bravo. Schools at Yokosuka Naval Base, which moved to Bravo two weeks ago, will open Sept. 28.
In South Korea, U.S. bases remain in condition Charlie; thus, remote learning continues for Pacific West schools “for the foreseeable future,” DODEA-Pacific chief of staff Todd Schlitz told Stars and Stripes on Sept. 16.
At Kubasaki, signs of change, brought about by health guidelines and coronavirus concerns, could be seen everywhere. Students and teachers all wore masks: on buses, moving in hallways and in classrooms.
Red signs embossed with the school logo hang in the hallways, reminding all to keep their physical distance. Sanitizer stations are everywhere, with reminders of the “three Ws:” Wash your hands, watch your distance, wear face coverings.
“Everybody’s been great about wearing masks,” even the younger elementary school students, DODEA-Pacific director Lois Rapp said. “The kids have been very compliant.”
In the Kubasaki cafeteria, each table had plastic dividers with a Dragon — the school’s mascot — on them.
For the most part, students said classroom instruction was better than remote learning.
“It’s hard to have an effective lecture online,” said Kubasaki senior Bailey Chavez. “It’s easier to stay engaged here.”
Leopold said she also approached the return to school with some apprehension, knowing that at any time, commanders could revert Okinawa bases back to condition Charlie.
“I hope we stay in Bravo, but you can never be sure,” she said. “We could go back to remote learning tomorrow.”