Monday's Assignment: Back to School in Europe
SCHWEINFURT, Germany - For some students, the first day of school Monday meant returning to familiar territory, but for others, it was all new.
For children whose families just arrived, adjusting to a new community also means new school, new friends, new teachers. And in Schweinfurt, Germany, it was all about a new high school in the Department of Defense school system.
A small group of former Mannheim High School students waited for the doors of the Schweinfurt High School to open, excited to be the first senior class at the new school.
"We are making history," said student Madea Brewer.
The Mannheim high school and middle school closed at the end of the last school year in June, as area bases close and U.S. Army Europe soldiers are being relocated.
Former Mannheim students also are attending Heidelberg middle and high schools this year. But Stephanie El Sayed, Heidelberg Middle School principal for the past five years, started the first day the way she always does: with a line dance before the first bell at 8:04 a.m.. "We did the Cupid Shuffle," El Sayed said. "Something that doesn't hurt my knees."
The dancing will continue all week, then sporadically throughout the year, she said. "It's part of our team building. It's something all the kids can learn," she said. "And we like to dance."
The elementary school in Mannheim will close at the end of this school year. But 220 students started there Monday.
"It's our last year," said principal Sharon Overstreet, as she watched the children gather in front of the school, "but we are going to have fun."
At bases across Germany, in Italy and England, parents and children streamed through the doors of DODDS-Europe schools, which has a combined enrollment of more than 34,000 students.
In Naples, Italy, it still felt like summer, hot and muggy. Lt. Cmdr. Nate Price, escorting his five children to the elementary and secondary schools, said sending the kids back to school had ups and downs.
"As my wife said yesterday, it's great to get them out of the house, but it's not great packing the lunches," he said.
In England, Leslie Sacchi, who has taught at RAF Lakenheath for 17 years, said many of the students are new to the school, which she said had a turnover rate of about one-third to one-half.
"Today is definitely a big day, Sacchi said. "It's exciting because it's a transition in life. The kids are coming back to see old friends and make new ones."
At Robinson Barracks in Stuttgart, school officials welcomed some 730 pupils to class at Robinson Elementary/Middle School.
Second grader Jackson Melton, pleased that he was allowed to ride his bike to school, had a one word answer when asked whether he was nervous: "No."
At Vogelweh Elementary School in Kaiserslautern, Germany, principal Sandy Meacham saw some new faces in the halls; enrollment this year is at 972 students, up from last year's 948, in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
Teachers and pupils were busy: There were supplies to unpack, classroom rules to explain, school tours to go on, introductions to be made and friendships to renew.
"They set up their routine and get to know their community," Meacham said. "The classroom teacher sets the tone for a great year."
At Grafenwöhr Elementary School, principal Crystal Bailey said the 300 or so students were eager to return.
"Oh my gosh –- they've been excited for weeks," she said. "But I think the parents are more excited."
Sydney Thornbrugh, 12, was already thinking college on her first day of seventh grade at Netzaberg Middle School.
"I guess I'm basically looking forward to getting as many high school credits as possible," she said.
The Netzaberg school system is in its fourth year, opening in 2008 to accommodate a growing population in the Grafenwöhr Training Area.
At Smith Elementary School in Baumholder, Sgt. Corey Hayes, who returned from Afghanistan on Saturday for Rest and Recuperation leave, said he was thrilled to see off his 6-year-old son, Camron, who was starting first grade. Hayes held his son's hand as they searched for Camron's teacher and classroom.
"I feel wonderful that I got to be here for his first day of school," he said. "It's like birthdays or Christmas, you don't want to miss these."
Stripes reporters Seth Robbins, David Hodge, Jennifer Svan, John Vandiver, Geoff Ziezulewicz, Steven Beardsley and Nancy Montgomery contributed to this report.