Excitedly offering up their thoughts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, a third-grade Patch Elementary class watched as teacher Robin Tessereau wrote their narrative on the board — in German.
Members of the 20-student German Partial Immersion class recently used a combination of German and English to express themselves as Tessereau listened intently and wrote their thoughts. Then, groups of up to four students took turns standing and synchronously reading what the class composed.
“Martin Luther King Jr. war ein guter Mensch. Er hat in seinem Leben viele gute Sachen gemacht,” their narrative began. “Die schwarzen Kinder durften nicht mit den weißen Kindern spielen. Martin Luther King Jr. hat gesagt, das ist nicht richtig.”
A student offered this English translation as Tessereau smiled, nodding her approval: “Martin Luther King Jr. was a good person. In his life he did a lot of good things. The black children were not allowed to play with the white children. Martin Luther King Jr. said that was not right.”
Tessereau’s third-grade class is one of four at Patch Elementary in the German Partial Language Immersion program. Anna Ingalls teaches the first-grade class, Shirley Julock the second-grade class and Stefan Zappey heads a multi-age class of first- through third-graders. Students enrolled in the program receive instruction in German in the subjects of math, science and social studies for approximately half of the school day.
“In the primary years, kids are acquiring language, and learning another language is just adding more words,” said Ingalls, adding that she started the immersion program at Patch Elementary about 15 years ago. “The earlier children acquire a language, the easier it is for them. The world is getting smaller and we need to be more global in our thinking.”
The Partial Language Immersion programs in some Department of Defense Dependents elementary schools make up an effort to help prepare students for a global marketplace in which corporations are increasingly looking for employees with foreign language proficiency. The DODDS system offers the programs worldwide, varying by location, in Spanish, French, Italian, Korean, Arabic and Japanese.
In learning to understand and communicate in German, students tend to become better learners of English, said Tessereau, who taught eight years in a full German immersion school in Milwaukee, Wis., and 12 years of German in high school.
“They become better listeners and observers — better “decoders” who take their critical thinking skills from the language — and apply them to other subjects,” she said. “They’re better in comprehension and at deriving meaning.”
Language immersion, Tessereau added, is all about youngsters making connections between what they learn in class and what they encounter in their daily lives.
Alexandra Preston, 9, weekly orders bread and sometimes milk and eggs from a bakery in Vaihingen. “I speak to them in German,” Preston, one of Tessereau’s students, said proudly. “I’m having a lot of fun, and the class has been really good.”
Julock, second-grade immersion teacher, said parents often tell her that they don’t realize how much their children know until they see them communicating with others out on the economy.
Parent Libby Phillips, whose third-grade son Matthew is in his second year of the immersion program, said she is impressed by his growing openness and comfort in speaking German. “I’m the translator for the family,” 9-year-old Matthew said. “I live in a village where I can have conversations with Germans — it’s so cool.”
PES Principal Robert Allen said he would like to expand the school’s program to kindergarten and fourth grade, but faces the dilemmas of not having the teaching vacancies to add the grade levels and the difficulty in finding Department of Defense Education Activity-certified teachers with the required fluency to teach the language.
Even so, parent AnnMary Driscoll said that if her third-grade son Ned isn’t able to continue beyond this school year in the program — his first — he will have gained some invaluable knowledge nonetheless.
“The first couple of weeks were really frustrating for him, but now he’s just fearless and plows right in there,” said Driscoll, whose family moved to the Stuttgart area from Key West, Fla., last August. “If nothing else, he knows how frustrating it is to be the new kid learning a new language.”