Commentary by Chuck McCarter
Special to the Herald Union
Like so much of our world, school has changed a lot over the years. However the start of school still brings the same sense of excitement to children and teachers alike.
As children and families shopped for new school clothes and supplies, teachers prepared for the new year. After a summer that may have included travel, relaxation, coursework and study, teachers focused on starting the year off right.
Students in most Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe began school on Aug. 27, while most teachers started back to work on Aug. 22. Schools use those three days for meetings and training, and teachers use the time to prepare their classrooms and lessons for the coming year.
Many teachers put in extra hours those days, as well as working through the weekend, to ensure that everything was ready to make the first day a great experience for students. Schools in Wiesbaden have a number of new teachers, filling new positions or replacing those who have retired or resigned. All four Wiesbaden schools have new members of their administrations this year. Aukamm Elementary School welcomed Debbie Parks as principal while Jason Sheedy joined the Hainerberg Elementary School as assistant principal. Dr. Susan Hargis took over as principal at Wiesbaden Middle School and Rick Renninger is the new assistant principal at Wiesbaden High School. As school began for Department of Defense Education Activity students, officials pointed to the continued high performance of local schools.
In 2011 DoDEA schools again outperformed their stateside counterparts on such indicators as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the TerraNova, the Scholastic Aptitude Test and high school graduation rates. DoDDS schools are fortunate to have caring and dedicated teachers who are experienced in working with the needs of students and military families. Teachers provide a stable and supportive environment for a transient population and for students whose parents may be deployed.
DoDD schools also set high expectations for students and have been studied by other school systems and universities for consistently high test scores and small minority achievement gap. Parents play an important role in a student’s education as well. Research shows that one key to success for students is supportive and involved families. For younger students, reading to/or with the students has shown to improve students’ achievement in school. Encourage students to share their experiences; go beyond the usual, “How was your day at school?” conversations and discuss what they are learning, their interests and their challenges. Each school in Wiesbaden will be hosting an open house (see Schoolbits on page 23 for details), so parents should make plans to attend.
Parents should also make sure that all contact information is up to date, including phone numbers and email addresses. Sally Jones, Wiesbaden Middle School language arts teacher, summed it up this way, “Teaching is a partnership activity. We partner with colleagues and administrators, but our most important partners are parents and students. Communication between schools and home is essential.
“I would like to encourage parents to let teachers know when they are TDY, deployed or plan on family vacations or leave,” she said. “Teachers want kids to succeed, and we can only help when we know what is going on.”
It should be noted, as with many organizations, it is best to work through the “chain of command” when you have questions about your child’s school, classes or work, starting with the teacher. Teachers in the Wiesbaden area are represented by the Federal Education Association, which is a state affiliate of the National Education Association. There are a variety of resources available on the NEA website for parents as well as teachers. One such resource is an Internet safety program offered by NEA’s Health Information Network. To access the free program and newsletters about helping families ensure students’ safety on the Internet and social media, go to www.bnetsavvy.org. (Chuck McCarter teaches at Wiesbaden Middle School)