Town Hall talks schools, child care

Kaiserslautern Military Community students and educators started the year in a familiar place: at home.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise across Germany, both host nation and Department of Defense Education Activity schools transitioned back to remote learning after a brief period of in-person instruction in fall 2020. Remote learning is projected to last through this month, pending any updates from German officials.

With the first few weeks of remote learning underway, Steven Sanchez, DODEA East District superintendent, and Col. Robert Thompson, 86th Airlift Wing Mission Support Group commander, discussed base schools and child care during a Virtual Town Hall Jan. 14.

“We have a lot of families in the area who weren’t here for the first lockdown to see what an extended period of virtual learning looks like,” said Thompson.

Knowing this fueled his desire to address questions about schools and child care.

Sanchez noted that remote learning has improved greatly in due to lessons learned along the way.

“Keep in mind last spring, none of this had done [remote learning] before…we really learned as we went along,” Sanchez said.

Germany’s initial lockdown last spring gave DODEA educators a matter of days to pivot lesson plans and transition to remote learning.

“This time we’ve been prepared,” said Sanchez. “We learned a lot since then and our instruction is even better than it was in the spring.”

Part of what helped improve remote learning was feedback from parents and educators. DODEA surveyed parents at multiple times to gather input on how to improve processes, schedules and instruction.

“[Additionally] we virtually brought together 125 teachers from around our district to talk about best practices in teaching, assessment, grading and providing social and emotional health for our kids,” continued Sanchez. “[This] created a best practices which we’ve shared with our schools. That’s one of the reasons our remote instruction is off to such a good start.”

Several parents commented with kudos saying that teachers are “doing an amazing job” and expressed gratitude toward the community in general for managing so well during difficult times. Some viewers asked about the future of sports now that school is remote. Sanchez said DODEA is looking to provide as many athletic and extracurricular options to students as possible.

“We weren’t able to do the fall indoor sports like basketball and wrestling, but we are hopeful with our outdoor sports that we may be able to offer more in the spring. We are planning for that right now and hope to have more information later this month,” he said.

Some asked about the possibility of a school lunch delivery for parents who are unable to pick up or drop off meals for their children. Sanchez said the DODEA bus drivers are contracted and cannot provide meal delivery as some districts are able to do in the U.S. They have, however, tried to make it easier by allowing parents to pick up a school meal wherever it is most convenient to them.

According to Sanchez, schools operate in lock-step with host nation guidance. DODEA staff are eager to return to the classroom as soon as officials authorize a safe return. He said schools will contact parents and teachers with any new information about future transitions to in-person learning.

“We will continue to work with our local military and public health partners to monitor the situation in each community and make decisions with the health and safety of our staff and kids in mind.”

Sanchez said many of DODEA’s teachers and staff are in the queue to get their COVID-19 vaccination, adding that he received his earlier that day.

Before signing off, he expressed his appreciation to both parents and teachers on how they’ve been able to adapt and overcome throughout the pandemic.

Thompson encouraged families to continue the conversation, ask questions and voice concerns.

“We want to support you and your families in the best way possible and the only way we can do that is by hearing what you have to say,” said Thompson. “We are all in this together and we will get through it together and I’m confident in our leaders, our Airmen and our families.”