WIESBADEN, Germany - Wiesbaden students should have plenty of people to make friends with this school year.

"We are opening our doors to a full house of students this year," said Aukamm Elementary School Principal Debbie Parks. Aukamm Elementary, like the other three Wiesbaden Department of Defense Dependents Schools saw a surge in enrollment with the start of 2013/2014 classes.

"We are beginning the school year with approximately 230 students," Parks added.

"Wiesbaden Middle and Hainerberg Elementary schools have the highest student population levels in 10 years," said Peter Witmer, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden school liaison officer. "Hainerberg Elementary has more than 900 students and Wiesbaden Middle School more than 500. The high school is also up with about 650 students starting school this year.

"School officials anticipated that we would be growing and they prepared for that. That means additional teachers," Witmer said. "They've done the groundwork to support the growing school population."

One advantage of the increased student populations is that there will be a bigger pool for student athletics and other extracurricular activities.

"We are very excited about the start of the school year," said Hainerberg Elementary School Principal Penelope Miller-Smith. "This is our year for accreditation and we're looking forward to hosting the accreditation team during the latter part of the school year … to show them the great things we do here thanks to the support of our parents, teachers and students."

Hainerberg Elementary's senior administrator said the school is well staffed to serve the growing student population with about 20 new teachers arriving from the Heidelberg area, Stuttgart and other DoD schools. Several local hire teachers and classroom renovations also greeted students with the start of school in Hainerberg.

Hainerberg Elementary welcomes new Assistant Principal Gwendolyn B. Ziegler who arrives after serving with the Department of Defense Domestic Dependent and Elementary Schools Kentucky District in Fort Knox, Ky.

"We had two classrooms renovated to meet the requirements for kindergarten," Miller-Smith said, explaining that they now offer kitchens and bathrooms on the first floor. A workspace and lounge area for teachers is another new feature at the school.

"It's not only that we're growing, but we're continuing to offer new and innovative programs for our families and our students," she said, pointing out that four new classrooms for Spanish and German immersion classes have been created.

Aukamm's principal said she, too, was excited about being able to expand the school's foreign language programs. "We'll have the full program of 90 minutes of Spanish instruction per week for all students in grades kindergarten to second-grade," Parks said.

"After a very successful accreditation review last year, we are continuing our goals of improving reading comprehension and math operations with involved, collaborative teaching of our classroom teachers and instructional coaches," Parks said. "Differentiated instruction to master 21st century skills is a priority."

"We are excited to welcome our students arriving from Heidelberg and from around the globe," said Wiesbaden Middle School Principal Dr. Susan Hargis.

Hargis said the school is continuing to place an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "With its partnership of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Defense Science and Technology Center working together, the leadership teams have already met to share education opportunities related to science, technology, engineering and math, to include environmental awareness."

Activities include traditional STEM events, Engineering Week, Earth Day and regular visits by scientists and engineers.

"We have many great programs at the school and our population has grown significantly this year," said Wiesbaden High School Principal Sharon O'Donnell.

"We need our parents to be involved as volunteers, audience members, tutors, guest speakers, chaperones, attendees on our school improvement days, to name a few," O'Donnell said. "If they have other ideas on how they can be involved just contact the school and let us know. We value our parents' support."

Kaiserslautern District

With the closure of Heidelberg and the DoDDS Heidelberg District, Wiesbaden schools are now served by the Kaiserslautern District, led by Dr. Dell McMullen.

Unit-school partnerships will also continue to play a vital role this school year, Witmer said. While the 102nd Signal Battalion supports Aukamm Elementary, 66th Military Intelligence Brigade teams with Hainerberg Elementary, 2nd Signal Brigade assists the high school, Wiesbaden Middle School welcomes Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Europe, in place of V Corps and renews its ties with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District.

"There are so many reasons why a strong community-school partnership is critical," said Witmer explaining that mentoring, supporting school assemblies and field days, and demonstrating how math, science and other academic endeavors apply to the real world provides an invaluable lesson. "The connections between the school and community help teachers and administrators better understand the military and service members understand the schools. It creates a dialogue.

"We encourage Soldiers to have lunch with their students whenever they can," he said. "It makes a big difference to have Soldiers in the schools and creates a calming influence." Soldiers also serve as role models in discouraging bullying and in working together for a common goal.

Safety remains an important focus, Witmer said. "From a safety standpoint, everyone must be aware and conscious of more students going to and from school. I think it's worth noting that every year we have a gathering of leaders, Military Police and school officials to ensure we're doing everything we can to provide for our student's safety."

One result of last year's regular Installation Advisory Council meetings is that Texas Strasse is now a one-way street.

Teen-led orientation

"Our youth sponsorship program has been active," said Witmer, in welcoming new arrivals to Wiesbaden.

A teen-led orientation for all students and parents to help them become more familiar with their surroundings, how to use public transportation and other aspects of life in the Wiesbaden area will be held Oct. 31 starting at 10 a.m. from the Wiesbaden Army Lodge. "No registration is required for the walking tour," Witmer said, advising parents and students to wear walking shoes and to bring euros to use public transportation.

Warrior football

Witmer said community members should also mark their calendars for the high school's Wiesbaden Warriors annual friendship game Sept. 6 versus the Wiesbaden Phantoms (a local German-American team). With the coin toss set for 6:45 p.m. at the Wiesbaden High School sports field, the game begins at 7 p.m.

College prep

School officials reminded parents and students that it's never too early to start preparing for life after high school. This year's Show Me the College Money program hosts a special worldwide webinar Sept. 17 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Wiesbaden Teen Center (in Hainerberg Housing).

"The webinar, featuring support from the Parent-to-Parent Program and other organizations will focus on selecting the right college for you," said Witmer. "And this is the time of the year when senior parents can see exactly how the program works."

The webinar, coordinated with universities across the United States, will offer students real time feedback, Witmer said, adding that "any high school parent can benefit from learning.

"Parental involvement in your child's education is critical," he said. "It tells your child that school is important."

Open houses

Aukamm and Hainerberg Elementary schools host open houses Sept. 4 from 4-5:30 p.m. Wiesbaden Middle School's open house is Sept. 10 from 4-6 p.m. and Wiesbaden High School invites community members in for an open house on Sept. 12 from 5:30-7 p.m.