Menwith Hill Elementary and High School in England.

Menwith Hill Elementary and High School in England. (Adam L. Mathis/Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — This year’s graduating class at Menwith Hill Elementary/High School numbered just 19. Next year, it will be zero.

Menwith Hill’s school bell has sounded for the last time.

School employees will empty the building of school property and hand over the keys to the military later this summer.

The K-12 school at tiny RAF Menwith Hill in northern England is one of a handful of Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe slated to close after students leave for the summer. Also on the shutter list are Lajes American School in the Azores — a K-12 school — and two primary schools in Illesheim and Ansbach, Germany.

A whittling of personnel assigned to the U.S. military installations hosting the schools resulted in the closures.

In the weeks leading to the end of the school year — which was Thursday for most DODDS-Europe schools — the schools held closing ceremonies and other special events to mark their final days.

Most of Menwith Hill’s 19 graduating seniors went on a class trip to Scotland, said Andrew Potter, who attended Menwith Hill, where both his parents are teachers, since second grade.

Though he’s leaving anyway for college, Potter said he’s saddened that he won’t have the chance to come back and visit his alma mater and his former teachers.

“I’ve grown up here,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m going to miss a lot of the people here and a lot of the experiences.”

About 50 to 60 students — almost half the current enrollment — will remain with their families next school year at Menwith Hill, said principal Kevin J. Brewer. They have the option of attending British school, he said.

Lajes had no graduating seniors this year, said principal Lauri Kenney. The school ended the year with 25 students in grades kindergarten through 11th, a significant decline from the previous fall enrollment of 76, she said.

All remaining dependents are slated to leave Lajes Field this summer, Kenney said, where a major drawdown in U.S. military operations is expected to leave only about 170 U.S. Air Force personnel and Defense Department civilian employees.

The Lajes school has held several celebrations marking the end of the year and the end of an era.

“We’re trying to keep it a celebration,” Kenney said. “We move onto our next adventure … that’s what we’re saying about this situation.”

Unlike at Menwith Hill and Lajes, where the school closures were announced about two years ahead of schedule, Illesheim’s and Ansbach’s Rainbow’s shuttering were announced abruptly in April.

Still, staff members found a way to stay upbeat as they bid farewell to students, each other and their schools.

“It is a sad day, but it’s also a joyous day as we celebrate what the students, teachers and community have accomplished in this great school,” Doug McEnery, assistant superintendent of the DODDS- Europe Bavaria District Office, was quoted in a news release as saying at Illesheim’s closing ceremony on June 3.

The announcement to close Illesheim and Rainbow came after the Army in Europe said it would reduce the number of 12th Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers by 1,900 and consolidate the remaining soldiers and resources into the Ansbach area. All remaining elementary-age students will attend Ansbach Elementary School at Katterbach Kaserne.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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