YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - It's 8:10 a.m. All the kids are in class. All 550. No complaints yet. That's pretty awesome."

That's how Seoul American Middle School Principal Darrell Mood wrapped his perspective on the start of the first day of school Monday as Yongsan schools ushered in the 2008-2009 year, opening their doors to nearly 2,200 students.

School officials say Yongsan students are attending some of the best schools in the Department of Defense Dependent School system. Of the eight schools in the Korea District, Yongsan has the largest student population.

"It's great to feel the 'back-to-school' excitement throughout the community," said Kris Kwiatek, Seoul American Elementary School assistant principal. "The parents in the Yongsan community are supportive and want the best education possible for their children. We are here to provide that education."

Because of a plus-up in command-sponsored families coming to Korea, the schools planned extensively to handle an influx of an expected 150 additional students this school year.

Before summer break, Garrison and school officials worked to develop a plan to accommodate the students. The result: a new school building, a bigger cafeteria, and improved drop-off areas for elementary school children.

"It is hard to say how high enrollment will go because it depends on how many families eventually show up," Kwiatek said. "We are working with DODDS Korea District to monitor enrollment and ensure student-to-teacher ratio remains appropriate."

Seoul American Elementary School has about 1,080 students, the middle school has 550 and the high school starts off the year with 670.

Following is a closer look at each school:

Seoul American Elementary School

The school welcomes a new administration team: principal Melissa Klopfer and assistant principals Samia Mounts and Kwiatek.

"We are excited to work with the educators, parents and community to make SAES an even better school than it already is," Kwiatek said. "We are also joined by 19 educators. They bring diverse backgrounds and a lot of experience in the teaching field. Combined with the experienced returning teachers of SAES, it is going to be an exciting school year and the students will benefit as we aim to strengthen our educational programs."

Kwiatek said one of his school's main initiatives is to increase communication within the community, celebrating the school's successes and recognizing students as they grow throughout the school year.

"We also want to make parents aware of school functions and provide as much information as possible to help ease the burden of the demanding schedule of the military member," Kwiatek said. "The more information we can share with the community, the easier it will be for parents to plan and support their child's learning."

He said the school encourages parents to become active and get involved with school activities.

"It's important that parents become familiar with their school and participate in the School Advisory Committee, the Parent Teacher Organization and volunteer at school functions and support the classroom teachers. When teachers and parents work together, it creates a powerful learning environment."

For details about SAES, visit the school online.

Seoul American Middle School

SAMS Principal Darrell Mood is proud to showcase the accomplishments of his 550-strong student body.

"Perhaps the highest honor an 8th grade student can earn is the President's Award for Educational Excellence," Mood said. "Students must have a collective grade point average of 3.5 or higher and a score above the 85th percentile on the Terra Nova in reading, language arts or math to qualify. Last year, over one-third of the eligible students were recipients of this prestigious honor."

This is an accreditation year for SAMS, Mood added. A team from North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement will visit in February. Mood said SAMS continues to excel in its Math and foreign language programs.

"We have two geometry classes right here in the middle school," Mood said. "We have over 100 students taking Algebra for high school credit. If you look at the achievements of this school, no one comes close."

In addition, a SAMS student team won the 2007-2008 DODDS-wide Math Counts competition.

For foreign languages, the school offers five: Chinese, Korean, Spanish, French and German.

"Most high schools in the Pacific have two or three," Mood said. "About half of the seventh graders are taking a foreign language and about 60 percent of the eighth graders. This is for high school credit. That's outstanding when you think about it."

For details about SAMS, visit the school online.

Seoul American High School

"This is one of the top performing schools in DODDS," said Bernard Hipplewith, SAHS assistant principal. "About 90 to 95 percent of our school's kids are college-bound. We have graduates who go on to premier universities, such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Princeton."

Like the middle school, the high school's foreign language program is comprehensive, offering the same five languages as the middle school, with the possibility of adding Japanese next term, Hipplewith said.

With a 670 enrollment this school year, the high school also showcases its professional technical program.

The Department of Defense Education Activity Professional Technical Studies Program offers career-related courses to teach students "real-world" methodology.

According to the DODEA Web site, the PTS curriculum gives students the knowledge and skills needed for multiple career choices by "matching what is taught in the classroom to business and industry standards."

"Professional Technical Studies works because it's practical as well as academic," according to DODEA. "PTS provides students with relevant contexts for learning. It's about the real world. It's about learning by doing."

Hipplewith said this year the professional studies program includes culinary arts and expanded hotel and lodging industry management skills.

The school's Junior ROTC program continues to be impressive in developing tomorrow's leaders, Hipplewith said.

"Last year, through ROTC, we had about $8 million in scholarships awarded," he said. Four graduates earned full West Point scholarships, two to the U.S. Naval Academy and four to the Air Force Academy.

SAHS also has a comprehensive sports program. Teams compete in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference, battling for wins against Korean and international schools in Seoul and around Korea. In addition, the high school teams take their top players to Far East tournaments, competing against other DODDS schools in the Pacific. Last year, SAHS tennis and basketball teams won coveted Far East titles.

For details about SAHS, visit the school online.

"By providing the best possible educational services, we can help build confidence in the DoDDS program," Kwiatek said, "and military members can focus on the mission they are here to do, while knowing their children are in the best hands."