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1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Children arrive for the first day of the 2021-22 school year at Parker Elementary School on Fort Rucker, Ala., Aug. 9. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Students head for the first day of school at Parker Elementary. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
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3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – DODEA and Ellis D. Parker Elementary School officials host Col. Robert J. Holcombe, Fort Rucker garrison commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond P. Quitugua Jr., garrison command sergeant major, on a tour of the school Aug. 10. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL
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4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: Graphic by David Agan) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- More than 600 Fort Rucker children returned to Ellis D. Parker Elementary School Aug. 9 for the first day of the 2021-22 school year.

While teachers and staff members remain committed to their mission to educate, empower and engage Fort Rucker students, this year, again, they are also focusing on safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Vicki Gilmer, school principal.

“The first day was amazing! It was so nice to see the students entering the school and you could just feel the excitement,” Gilmer said, adding that school started this year in the same manner it ended last year. “We have all our COVID-19 protocols in place, and we are diligent in our processes that help us maintain a safe and healthy environment.”

Department of Defense Education Activity officials and garrison leadership visited the school Aug. 10 to welcome the children back and to tour the school.

Dr. Christy Huddleston, Southeast District superintendent, and Dr. Lisa B. Coleman, Georgia/Alabama Community superintendent, along with Gilmer, hosted Col. Robert J. Holcombe, Fort Rucker garrison commander – who was making his first visit to the school since assuming command in June – and Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond P. Quitugua, garrison command sergeant major, on a tour of the school while classes were in session.

Holcombe was impressed with the practically brand-new facility, but even more so with the people charged with educating and developing Fort Rucker children.

“This building is amazing – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school as nice as this one,” the commander said. “But even more important is what’s inside the school. The great teachers and staff, the students, how they interact, all of the resources that are available – those things impressed me the most.

“We’re so happy that the students are able to come back in person,” Holcombe added. “It’s great to see the community back together again – the school is really the heart and soul of the post because our kids get to grow and develop together as part of that community.”

Quitugua, whose spouse works at the school, agreed, adding that he’s comfortable with the DODEA COVID-19 mitigation and safety strategies he saw in place at Parker Elementary.

“The ability to offer in-person instruction while complying with COVID mitigation strategies is great because it allows parents to feel comfortable knowing that their kids are taking part in in-person instruction, which is so much more effective than digital learning, while at the same time knowing the teachers and staff are doing their part to keep the students and themselves safe from COVID. It’s great for the entire family dynamic at Fort Rucker,” Quitugua said.

He also had a message for the students.

“Welcome back to school – we know you’re excited to be here and see your friends, and you’re parents are probably even more excited you’re out of the house and here learning as well,” Quitugua said. “But don’t forget to protect yourself – continue to wear your mask, wash and sanitize your hands frequently, and enjoy yourself for the rest of the school year.”

At the end of last year, Gilmer hosted the teachers and staff for a “championship season celebration,” and she said the Patriots team plans to repeat and build on that success in 2021-22.

“The students are very excited to be back on campus and back in the groove,” the principal said. “I am just so glad to see them – we are going to continue to do great things.

“It will definitely be a repeat,” she added. “We began the year with a motivational speech by Coach (Nick) Saban (head football coach at the University of Alabama) and in it he stated, ‘Can you have the discipline to execute day-in and day-out?’ That is our mission – to execute day-in and day-out for our students.”