MILLERSBURG — Seventh-grader Zach Bontrager stepped back in time to think like a 7-year-old as he prepared a lesson in German for second-graders at Millersburg Elementary School.

The seventh-and-eighth-graders attending the new middle school classes at Millersburg Elementary School have German as part of their curriculum and spent time teaching the younger students in their classrooms.

“If you act like a second-grader and know they haven’t had German class yet, it helps to bring it down to their level,” Bontrager said. “I liked it. It wasn’t hard to prepare and we practiced (in class). I wasn’t afraid of being in front of the kids, either. Teaching them German helped me understand it (the language) better myself.”

Some of the middle school students created visual aids, including posters and flash cards, to use in their lessons for the kindergarteners and first- and second-graders, according to Andrea Ganger, German teacher/EL coordinator.

“They used the alphabet and basic phrases in their lessons,” Ganger said. “It’s been good to take on a project as a whole group even though they were split into groups to teach. One group used phrases from songs to teach German and they were so excited.”

For classmates Rita Yoder and Julia Miller, the lesson planning helped reinforce their grasp of the language as well as repeating German phrases with all the grades when school staff used the loudspeaker in the mornings.

“The kids were familiar with some of the words and that helped,” Yoder said. “It was fun to see their reaction and we got to know the kids too.”

Miller said she had fun teaching the younger students and likes learning the language in class, even if it can be hard to learn new and unfamiliar words.

Ganger said the students attend class every other day on a rotation basis. During a recent class period, the middle school students paired up in twos to read a short story in German. They had to make a prediction about the plot based on pictures on one side of a worksheet. As they read the story, the students highlighted new words and wrote them in a list below the story. Their next step was using a program on their iPads that translated the words from German to English.

The last step was writing their comments on how accurate their prediction was, Ganger said.

As the first year of the middle school German program, Ganger said it’s been experimental and fun.

“I’m seeing how the different groups can move at their own paces. Some stay at the same stage and others move ahead at different levels,” Ganger said. “It’s been good.”

Advantages for German study

There are several advantages of having German study and starting students at the middle school level, according to Ganger

German is a key language for the areas of music, science, international business and law as well as having a connection with businesses, the teacher said.

“Germany has a robust economy and there are many German companies located locally, like Benteler Automotive Corp. (in Goshen) and throughout Indiana,” Ganger said.

As a dual education model, Germany’s education system heavily integrates theory and application and students go to classes and work in apprenticeships and as interns to apply what they learn as they are learning, Ganger added.

“The cosmetology program at Fairfield (Jr/Sr High School) has been participating in Skills USA competitions for several years and has become quite successful. This program has its roots in the German model,” she said.

For students who continue taking German classes in high school, there are opportunities for free college tuition for those who qualify to study at German universities. Some of those universities don’t charge tuition even for international students.

“Students must cover only their living costs — meals, lodging, plus books and materials,” Ganger said. “If their German language skills are good enough, they can enter directly into a university without first having to take German language courses.”

Several high school students and their families were hosts for 15 German students visiting Fairfield Jr/Sr High School in an exchange program, according to Jonathan Gigler, German teacher at the high school.

“They spent a week touring New York and Washington D.C. doing the touristy stuff first and then spent a week with us,” Gigler said. “We are doing a return trip next year and visiting different places. It’s a way to help our students with their German and the German students with their English. When you study a language, you tend to travel there and it opens up a different world. There are friends you can make when you visit and you get a different perspective of your own country as well as their country. It helps us appreciate what we is good about our country and what is good about other countries. It’s healthy to have a good sense of equalization, it opens up a bigger world for them.”

Follow Sherry Van Arsdall on Twitter at @svanarsdall_TGN.

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