Department of Defense Dependents Schools – Celebrating 60 years of excellence

Dennis K. Bohannon
Public Affairs, Office of the Director DODDS-Europe

October marks the 60th year that Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe have taught America’s military students overseas.
In 1946, 38 elementary schools and five high schools, under the newly established Dependents Schools Service, opened their doors to 1,297 American military students.

The night before the grand openings the Stars and Stripes newspaper carried a report on the first PTA meeting in Berlin. The American Forces Network supplemented school music programs with their broadcasts during the weeks that followed.

The Dependents Schools Service eventually evolved into the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, Europe. In its heyday, DODDS-Europe had more than 200 schools and hundreds of thousands of students. Today, DODDS-Europe has 98 schools, and about 40,000 students.

In the spring of 1946, under the headship of Maj. Virgil Walker, two supporting Army officers, an enlisted administrative specialist, four American civilian educators and teachers were recruited, curriculums were planned and budgets were developed.

Initially, according to the history books, each child was to pay a yearly tuition of $10. Before school started, however, tuition was limited to the top three enlisted ranks, and was lowered to $4 per student. That was significant in view of the fact that school budgets were originally derived from profits on beverage sales in the Class Six stores.

Schools initially consisted of a few modern buildings, but many were requisitioned houses, unused utility buildings and empty barracks. According to historian Dr. Allen D. Olson, installation commanders provided the facilities, pot bellied stoves and other essentials.

“Empty shell cases in the career ed courses were made into ash trays, lamps and jewelry boxes, Dr. Olson said. “One faculty had only red chalk. Powdered, it made tempera when mixed with water, with varnish it became enamel, and with starch it made finger paint.”

As with parents today, accreditation and knowing how their children would “fit in” when they returned to the States was a concern. Olson wrote, “Because Major Walker had been a school superintendent in Minnesota before the war, the NCA (North Central Association), asked him to run an accreditation visit to the five high schools.”

Major Walker’s report read, “I found a satisfactory degree of efficient instruction. The schools have high morale and an intellectual tone.” Major Walker noted in his report that although there were supply shortages and a problem in accurately projecting student enrollments, all was going well. By the end of the first year, student enrollment had doubled to 2,992 students.       

Today, DODDS-Europe has an annual budget of more than $700 million and educates 40,000 students in 98 schools located in nine countries. All schools are accredited by the NCA, and help produce some of the smartest students in the American pool, with test scores that have consistently been higher than national averages.

Classes today include digital art, automotive mechanics, journalism, video production, culinary arts and advanced algebra. It is possible for students to obtain high school credits as early as the eighth-grade and college credits in high school through advanced placement.

In a letter to student parents, Diana Ohman, Director of DODDS-Europe, said, “We have come a long way since those early days of simple reading, writing and arithmetic. It is exciting to realize that our parents and military partners have been by our side for well over half a century.”

Ms. Ohman invited the parents to join in the celebration of these partnerships. “Through a variety of events and news stories we will be revisiting some of our students and our history during this anniversary year,” she said. “I look forward to many more years of teaming with our parents and with our military communities.”