Japan 6 “Sayonara”

This was my first experience with a Naval base, and it was quite different than my visits to Army installations. At the gate, they didn’t even look at my papers, as I was in a car with a permanent employee. The lodging was excellent, a suite consisting of a kitchen, living room, and small bedroom and bath. The queen bed took up most of the space in the bedroom. There were two TV’s, bedroom and living room, and lots of channels as compared to the dozen at the Army base. This base is a maintenance area for the George Washington carrier, and for about 7 months of the year the sailors are at sea, leaving their families behind. The elementary school has around 550 students at any one time, but there is a significant turnover, about 30 % annually, as parents are transferred to other assignments.

Each night, I was able to fall asleep to the roar of the F-18’s blasting off for some kind of exercise over the ocean; periodically during the day the sound drowned out conversations in the school, even though the airstrip was about a mile away. Our tour of the base was headed by the Commanding Officer, a Naval Captain, and included being able to try out the controls on a flight simulator, sort of like a sophisticated video game, and prowl around the aircraft parked in the hangars and on the apron. Maintenance personnel and pilots explained what all the geegaws, protruding and recessed, were for, and seemed excited to be able to share their knowledge with us.

There were a number of restaurants and fast food places on the base; we sampled a different one each evening. I finally was able to spend some time, and some $$$, buying Japanese artifacts to try and fit into my luggage for the flight home. I’m glad that international flights allow two checked bags, at  no charge.

Now for some observations. I have been constantly amazed at the resiliency of the military personnels’ families, having to “pick up and leave” almost on a moment’s notice. Not only does this present uproar within the family; as a school administrator it’s somewhat of a nightmare when faced with the difficulty of providing consistency within the educational program. And it’s not only the children having to move; teachers are often “snatched out of the classroom” in mid-year, as their spouses are sent elsewhere. Some of the children in the elementary school had already been in as many as five schools by the time they reached sixth grade; most have learned to adjust to the anxiety of losing their recently-made friends, and prepare to meet new ones in a new locale. The kids do seem to have a lot of confidence in themselves, having had to learn to muddle through adversity and deal with significant life changes. At the same time, many of them do not have “roots”, that is, a particular place to call home. For many, the nomadic life in the military IS their home; the closest some of them get to having a real place is an annual visit to grandparents somewhere in the States. Within this lifestyle, a whole subculture has been created. Some of our team members were good examples, they were hugging and chatting with former colleagues from elsewhere, some in Germany, Italy, Korea, and delving into their own grapevine of gossip and stories about this person or that military base. One of our team had raised all three of her children overseas, 20 years in Germany and 10 in Japan; her comment was that all three could confidently achieve anything they were after, partially due to having grown up in this mobile setting.

In order to address this issue, the Department of Defense Educational Agency (DODEA) establishes the same curriculum and materials for use throughout all 196 of their schools around the globe, and even dictates professional development activities to be replicated in all locations. As much of the decisions are made at the higher levels, many of the principals become more “managers” than leaders, although the best ones recognize the need for creating ownership of the program by the participants in order to achieve successful student achievement, and structure “in school” professional development seminars and training to achieve that collegiality and sharing.

One of the really refreshing things about these schools is the terrific amount of diversity among the staff and students, at no such school have I seen any inkling of discrimination. Everyone works together, and form friendships and alliances regardless of ethnicity, gender, or any other category often creating problems at home. And at each school, I find some new project or idea to share with the next schools I visit.

I really like what I’m doing!   (I don’t like the extra inches added to my waistline on these trips; I thought that by using chopsticks I could overcome that problem, but it hasn’t worked. Do you think if I learned to eat one rice grain at a time, that would help?)


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