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Middle school students at Aviano Air Base returned to classrooms Jan. 19, 2021, for the first time since the school went virtual in November due to coronavirus concerns.
Middle school students at Aviano Air Base returned to classrooms Jan. 19, 2021, for the first time since the school went virtual in November due to coronavirus concerns. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Middle school students returned to classrooms at Aviano for the first time in two months on Tuesday, leaving less than 200 Department of Defense Education Activity students who are required to learn from home in Italy.

That number should shrink further as a kindergarten class in Vicenza transitions from virtual learning next week and high school students at Aviano go back to classes Feb. 1, DODEA-Europe spokesman Stephen Smith said.

The number of students staying home varies by the day under quarantine protocols, and some families have elected to continue with virtual learning. But all schools on U.S. military bases in Naples, Sigonella, Vicenza and Camp Darby are open for in-person learning after varying lengths of closures due to coronavirus concerns.

Alexander Revella is back with his eighth grade classmates at Aviano, and that’s good news for his father, Master Sgt. Derek Revella.

Revella, first sergeant of the 31st Maintenance Group, and his wife, Kendra, both work full-time on base. He said his son staying at home “had the potential to be really rough,” but that the arrangement worked due to “creative scheduling,” support from his leadership and the willingness of teachers to be more flexible.

Still, his son missed his friends. “That social interaction is so important for later in life, how they handle certain situations and deal with people,” Revella said.

U.S. bases in Italy have generally followed Italian rules on coronavirus restrictions, which vary between regions.

Aviano, located in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, kept its elementary school open but told older students to learn from home in November after Italian authorities shut down high schools across the country.

The middle school never had to shut down in-person instruction under the Italian directive. But Principal Ken Harvey told a virtual town hall audience that logistical issues meant that sixth, seventh and eighth graders would also be learning from home. Those issues were worked out during the winter break.

“It’s great to have kids back in the places they belong,” Harvey said Tuesday. “Schools are very dull places without children.”

Most Italian high school students are still learning remotely, Italian news agency ANSA reported Monday. It said that four regions resumed in-class learning Monday, joining three others that had resumed a week earlier.

Friuli and Veneto — which includes U.S. Army Garrison Italy at Vicenza — are both in the country’s second tier for coronavirus restrictions. Sicily, where the Navy’s base in Sigonella is located, is one of two regions still under the most restrictive conditions. Campania and Tuscany, home to the Navy’s Naples sites and the Army’s Camp Darby, respectively, are under the lightest conditions.

Travel between regions is still largely restricted through mid-February under a national decree.

Italy reported 8,825 new coronavirus cases Monday, with a total of 547,059 people now battling COVID-19. More than 1.7 million people are listed as recovered, while more than 82,000 have died from the virus since the pandemic was first detected in Italy early last year.

harris.kent@stripes.com Twitter: @kharris4Stripes

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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