Students arrive at historic Casey Elementary School for classes
Taylor Roberson arrives for the first-ever day of school at Casey Elementary School at Casey Garrison. CES is first-ever Department of Defense Education Activity school opened in Warrior Country - a previous family member-restricted area near the demilitarized zone.

CASEY GARRISON, South Korea -- Elementary and middle school students who reside in the Uijeongbu-Dongducheon area - north of Seoul - no longer take a 60- to 90-minute one-way bus ride to Yongsan Garrison to attend school thanks to the historic opening of Casey Elementary School Aug. 30.

Before Gen. Walter Sharp, U.S. Forces Korea commanding general, announced plans to normalize tours across the peninsula for Soldiers and their families Dec. 10, 2008, Warrior Country was a dependent-restricted tour.

"It's wonderful," said Sgt. Luis Cruz, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, about the tour normalization and the new school that his 6-year-old daughter is attending. "Right now children don't have to get in the bus for the long ride so (the community is) changing and changing for the better."

While the school encountered a few snags with transportation, lunches and student registration the first day, Casey Elementary School Principal Shelly Kennedy and her new staff were prepared to deal with them.

"The first day we had a few snags but today the buses all made it in time," Kennedy said at the end of the second day of school. Perhaps the greatest challenge the Department of Defense Education Activity faced in opening the school was the short timeline.

Kennedy said a principal is typically on-site one year prior to the opening. The decision to build the school wasn't made until December 2009 and she arrived the following March.

"It was pretty amazing, actually," she said. "They did an excellent job building this. We're still trying to outfit it to meet our needs."

Initial projections were for about 250 students, but the enrollment has climbed above 300 creating some challenges for Kennedy.

"It is higher than anticipated and as a result we're forced to only accept command-sponsored category one students," she said.

Kennedy expects the situation to improve in August 2011 when a second wing for the Sure Start through eighth grade school opens in an adjacent building. It's also undergoing construction work that will convert it from a barracks to a school. For now, Kennedy is focused on the current academic year.

"The goal is quality education for all the students," she said.

While Kennedy and her staff are still working through some of the issues and she said the processes have improved from the first to second day of classes, her faculty shares her enthusiasm for the historic opening.

"I'm kind of fired up about it," said Bess Wills, who transferred within DODEA to the brand new school before classes began the first day. "I elected to come here from a luxurious location in Europe because of this and it's very exciting to see our servicemembers' kids get this kind of opportunity. It's awesome."

(Maj. William Griffin, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16