Having a Field Day

GSD’s College in the Schools program is a bridge linking Folwell Hall and high school German classes across Minnesota.

They step off schoolbuses looking like ordinary high school students, their jackets and sweatshirts emblazoned with the likes of Eden Prairie High or Hastings Raiders. Yet when these young people visit a German language class in Folwell Hall, they show all the confidence—and the proficiency—of third-year University students.

Welcome to the College in the Schools (CIS) program, through which GSD enables Minnesota high schoolers to complete its intermediate German curriculum—for University credit—even while they’re still beating a path from homeroom to high school band. Besides giving juniors and seniors a jump start on college, the program creates a bridge between GSD and high school German teachers across the state—a bridge many call a lifeline at a time when German study is disappearing from cash-strapped school districts.

Each year, about 250 students from 20 schools—along with their teachers—participate in the CIS German program, according to CIS coordinator and GSD senior lecturer Ginny Steinhagen.

Among the student participants are Brittany Hunter of Eden Valley- Watkins (EVW) High School, thrilled that she’ll start college this fall with 10 bona fide U of M course credits on her transcript; Rob Fodstad, an EVW junior, who touts the challenge of a German curriculum that’s “a little tougher” than the standard high school program; and Hastings High’s Katie Morris, who is pleased that CIS offers “an opportunity to really learn German, not just try to pass a high-stakes AP reading test.”

All three students, along with their teachers, took part in last fall’s “College in the Schools Field Day” on the University campus, one of two such events GSD hosts each year. The day’s faculty chats, campus tours, and class visits “give the kids an opportunity to see what it’s like to be a University student and to think about continuing their language study,” says Owatonna teacher Maureen Zishka.For teachers, the day is a way to reconnect with GSD faculty and with one another, building on CIS-sponsored teacher workshops and e-mail exchanges.

Student and teacher enthusiasm
Through CIS, high-achieving high school juniors and seniors complete GSD’s second-year course sequence, German 1003 and 1004, in their very own high school classrooms.The courses are taught by experienced high school German teachers using extensive curricular materials provided by GSD.Teachers also attend several teacher workshops each year focusing on course content and pedagogical issues.

GSD’s program is among the largest of 13 CIS programs offered by the University in various disciplines. Steinhagen says GSD is strongly committed to the program as a way of “doing what we can to support language teachers and promote German in Minnesota.” GSD supports this goal financially on two different fronts: Each year, the Hella Lindemeyer Mears Fellowships fund two Ph.D. students who help promote high school German through CIS, while a special four-year scholarship is awarded annually to a high school CIS student who goes on to study German at the University of Minnesota.

Teachers describe CIS as a lifeline. “I’m a one-person department, and CIS is the only way I have to talk to and learn from other German teachers,” says longtime EVW educator Don Kjar.

Like Kjar, others wax enthusiastic about the curricular materials provided by GSD (“unbelievably helpful,” in Kjar’s words) as well as the “virtual community” that keeps them in regular touch between their face-to-face workshops and field days.

“Probably not a week goes by when I don’t e-mail other teachers that I’m having trouble with this or what did you do about that, or that I’m not sure about this particular grammar point,” says Carla Griebel, who has taught German for 35 years at Hastings High (including 10 years of CIS German). She and other teachers heap praise on Steinhagen, who moderates the e-mail discussion, consults with teachers by phone, supplies helpful materials, and traverses the state to visit every CIS classroom.

The beneficiaries of all this are, of course, students. Many echo the sentiment of Hastings High’s Morris, who says that her CIS classes “are challenging, but worth the extra work— you learn a lot, especially about how to speak the language. I visited a third-year class at the U and I understood most of the conversation.”

Not only that, but the price is right. A fivecredit CIS course is just $125 per student—a fraction of the tuition for a regular University class—and the cost is in most cases covered by school districts. “They do the math and realize that if students were to take a collegelevel class away from school, the school would lose pupil aid money,” explains Steinhagen.

Still, high school German programs are under siege, Steinhagen notes—axed amid K- 12 budget woes that sometimes abolish all language programs—or at least “anything beside Spanish.” Steinhagen, who recently saw German discontinued at her own son’s school in St. Paul, stresses that CIS plays an important role in “keeping German alive in Minnesota, and ensuring that we have a new generation of teachers and scholars.”

A two-way street
Not all CIS students go on to enroll at the University, but many do. Students often have their first exposure to the University through the program. For many, it’s a revelation.

“Students come down here, see the campus, and like the program,” says Kjar.That was true for Hastings student Katie Morris: “I got to see how classes work—that they were nice and small, and that everyone participates.”

Morris plans not only to enroll at the University this fall, but also to take German— even if she pursues her current career goal of equine management. Most CIS students do go on to advanced language study, teachers say; Eagan High School teacher Gayle Carlson observes that students “enjoy the CIS classes, and when they succeed in college-level courses, it builds their confidence to go on.”

CIS German is as challenging and interesting for teachers to teach as it is for students to learn, Carlson notes. “As professionals, it’s great for your growth when you have to stretch a bit—try out something different and new. I can honestly say that my involvement in CIS has helped me teach other classes in addition to this one.”

That goes both ways, emphasizes Steinhagen. For University faculty, CIS “keeps us in touch with the needs of schools and teachers— good for educational continuity.” And more than once, she’s found herself “borrowing a great teaching idea from one of the high school teachers and bringing it back to my classes on campus. So the program really is a bridge in every sense of the word.”

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on March 6, 2009 9:56 AM.

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