German Program Cut in Eugene, Oregon

While the German language program is on the chopping block, other languages like Japanese remain in tact.

Here’s the story from mysanantonio.com, November 3, 2012, written by Susan Palmer:

For three weeks now, 16 German teenagers have been immersing themselves in the Eugene culture, attending classes at South Eugene High School, living with area families, even attending a Duck football game.

They’ve had the opportunity to share their German culture and history with local students, too, giving presentations in classrooms and just spending time with other students.

“It’s really fun,” said Tilman Welsch, a 16-year-old from St. Wendel, Germany. “My ‘family’ is great. They took me to the (Huskies-)Duck game, and to the coast. It’s a bit different than the German coast, lots of hills.”

Welsch speaks a gently accented English, and he stops now and then to search for the right word. That’s in part what this trip is all about, said Kyle Yamada, social studies teacher at Eugene’s International High School, where the German students spend part of their day.

Being immersed in the language you’re studying is an important way to gain fluency, Yamada said.

But the second half of the long-running St. Wendel-Eugene exchange, with Eugene students going to Germany in the spring or summer as they have each year for the past 22 years, is unlikely to happen.

The German language program has been cut at South, and the teacher who organized the trips is no longer working in the district.

South Eugene once had a rich world languages department with seven foreign languages offered. By last year, the number of languages had shrunk to four, and the school was in the process of phasing out German, Principal Randy Bernstein said.

The first- and second-year German classes were cut first, he said.

This year, the school had planned to offer a combined third- and fourth-year German class for the 18 to 20 students expected to attend.

But the number of students wanting to study Japanese doubled to 60, and the district chose to add another Japanese class and cut the German offering because there wasn’t enough money to do both, Bernstein said.

“In a time when we’re looking at (large) class sizes, it’s difficult for us to justify classes for that small a number of kids,” he said.

The school didn’t leave the advanced German students completely out in the cold, arranging to get some of them into University of Oregon classes and others into online offerings, Bernstein said.

Foreign language classes still offered at South include Japanese, Spanish and French.
What’s less clear is how the loss of German classes at the school will affect the exchange program itself.

The program is sponsored by the German American Partnership Program, known as GAPP, a cooperative effort between the German Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Department of State, with both government agencies helping cover the costs.

One of the requirements of U.S. participation is that German classes be taught at the host school, according to the GAPP website.

For Eugene parent Lina Howisor, the loss of the language program is a tragedy.
Howisor and her family moved from Ohio to Eugene a couple of years ago, and her teenage daughter, Blythe Kalson, chose German as her world language at South, despite having taken Spanish and Chinese back in Ohio.

Howisor thinks it was South’s German language teacher, Kathy Saranpa, who instilled in her daughter a love for the language.

When South began phasing out German, Howisor said, her daughter decided to stick with it anyway.

“Her teacher had so infused her, and the rest of the class, with some kind of enthusiasm that I have rarely seen,” Howisor said.

Blythe sought an individual scholarship through the GAPP program and is spending her senior year at a high school in Hamburg, Germany, Howisor said.

“To remove German from the school was more than just ‘let’s cut a foreign language.’ It was like letting the air out of a high-flying balloon,” she said.

It represents more than the loss of a language program, Yamada said. The exchange also built relationships across borders.

“I’ve heard on several occasions how good the friendships are that they make with each other. They also dispel a lot of stereotypes about each other’s cultures,” he said.

Each group also gets a sense of what school and education are like in the country they visit, Yamada said.

The German students visiting Eugene, for example, have been surprised by the lunch break in the middle of the day, 15-year-old Laura Hams said.

At their high school, Gymnasium Wendalinum in St. Wendel, classes end about 2:30 p.m., and after school she eats lunch at home with her parents.

She also has been surprised by the amount of sports available to students.
“My exchange student (partner) plays water polo and she trains every day for three hours,” Laura said.

Based on what he has seen in a high school physics class, 16-year-old Philipp Trapp thinks German students are a year or two ahead in the topics they’re covering.
“I think it’s easier here,” he said.

The differences between schools isn’t lost on the teachers and administrators who accompany their students, Yamada said.

Two years ago, the Gymnasium Wendalinum principal visited Eugene and spent a day shadowing Yamada through his classes.

At a roundtable discussion among students and teachers at the end of the day, that principal said he was struck by two things, Yamada recalled.

“He felt the quality of teaching was similar and high … but he was struck by the large difference in class sizes,” Yamada said.

German high school classes average about 25 students, but Yamada said his classes sometimes balloon to 50 or 60 students.

“What the principal said he saw was a lamentable lack of investment in education,” Yamada said.

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