GKES closes, celebrates history

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen's elementary school held a commemorative end of year ceremony June 8 to celebrate the school's legacy before its closure June 12.

The Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Europe closed Geilenkirchen Elementary School as part of an efficiency initiative to deliver effective education programs while balancing the students' quality of life.

Nancy Bresell, DoDDS-Europe director, said the most efficient way to manage the education program for students whose parents are stationed at NATO AB Geilenkirchen is to close GKES and expand the kindergarten to sixth-grade capacity to Allied Forces North International School in Brunssum, Netherlands.

GKES teachers will transition to AFNORTH IS or transfer to another DoDDS location, said Terry Emerson, GKES principal.

The 470th Air Base Squadron held town halls to help the parents, students and teachers transition smoothly.

"It's a bitter sweet moment, but we're going to try and make it more sweet than bitter," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin Virts, 470th ABS commander. "The 470th is here to make sure the transition from K-6 to K-12 is flawless by holding town halls with parents so that concerns are addressed before the closure.

We've tackled concerns with AFNORTH, and GKES staff and community partners," he continued. "One of the concerns with the parents was going from a smaller elementary school to a large international school. We've partnered with the school bus liaisons and with DoDDs to make sure this transition is smooth."

Bresell ensures the arrangement will not create undue hardship and  the time it takes to bus students to AFNORTH IS is well within the Department of Defense Education Activity's normal bus commuting requirement.

"Keeping in mind the close proximity of the two facilities, (AFNORTH IS and GKES), and the long-term experience we have had with educating Geilenkirchen's middle and high school students at AFNORTH, I believe that this is the best future course for these communities," Brussel said in a letter to GKES.

Another effort to make the closure easier was a closing ceremony. The school partnered with the 470th ABS to celebrate the GKES's 32 year history in Geilenkirchen.

The ceremony included speeches about the school and essay readings from present and past students about what the year 2025 will be like. Each essay was put into a time capsule, which was presented at the end of the ceremony. The time capsule will be opened 2025 at the DoDEA archives in Wichita, Kan.

"To be able to make a special celebration of closure allows everybody a chance to feel good about what they did and how they participated over the course of time that they've been here," Emerson said.