Parents Battle to Save German Language Program

Parents Battle to Save German Language Program

Virtual classes will fill in, but the future is unclear and unpromised.

— A group of Arlington parents banded together in late summer to save the Arlington Public Schools’ German language program.

Suzy Lohmeyer, one of the organizers of the group, says she was blindsided when she got an email a week ago notifying that her son’s German class would be moved online because the one APS German teacher was unexpectedly leaving. The email indicated the school system would be cutting German 1 and moving German 2 and 3 online to be taught by an Oklahoma University contractor. It is unclear whether they would be offering German 4.

Lohmeyer says the school system is blaming the departing German teacher, who is beloved. The teacher gave a month’s notice, Lohmeyer says. The teacher was unavailable for comment.

On Monday evening Frank Bellavaria, director of communications for APS said, “We were able to get the current teacher to stay and teach virtually until we find a permanent replacement. This is good news in that it gives us time to hire a highly qualified German teacher.”

“It is important for kids to have the opportunity to take four years of a language which is required to get into many colleges today,” Lohmeyer says.

Lohmeyer’s husband is German and their two children have dual citizenship. The children had German early on. “Then we moved back to the U.S., and one of the reasons we chose Arlington is they offered German in school.”

Lohmeyer says when she protested the changes in German classes to Elizabeth Harrington, APS world language supervisor, Harrington said hiring a new teacher was just too hard. “She said, ‘your kid could just take a different language.’”

Lohmeyer’s daughter was set to begin German 1 next year, and her son is enrolled in German 3 this year, but has yet to begin any classes, in person or online. “It’s not fun taking language online. You need the interaction and it seems to me that if they cut German 1 that there won’t be enough kids next year so they will use it as an excuse to cut the whole program.”

Parent Judith Davis, who has been leading the battle, says the effort to save the German language program geared up in late August when parents learned about the decision to cut German 1 and move German 2 and 3 online. A number of parents jumped on Facebook to express their concern. “So many parents were unhappy about this.”

Davis says she contacted Superintendent Francisco Duran about the decision. “It was apparent to me that he didn’t have the whole picture.”

Then she received a call from Brian Stockton, the superintendent’s chief of staff, who said that they had been swamped but that didn’t mean this was less important. “I realized after a series of emails with the Superintendent … that he didn’t have all of the facts and figures. We won’t go away until we have the answers.”

Davis and her two children, Berdy and Aari, spoke on behalf of the German program at the September School Board meeting Sept. 9. “Berdy said he would just speak from the heart about why German is important to him because he is the product of a multi-cultural family.” Davis grew up in Germany and all of her relatives still live there.

Davis says she was told last week her children needed to take a different language.

PARENTS ARE ALSO concerned about the fate of the exchange program with Arlington’s sister city in Aachen, Germany.

Quinn Leonard, who went on the exchange visit in 2018 when he was in fifth grade, says he stayed with a German family for two weeks and had a great experience. “We went to a trampoline park, toured the city and went to school for a day. It was awesome.”

One reason he wants to continue his German language is so he can continue to talk to the German exchange student who came to stay with him and is now at a boarding school in Pennsylvania. “I think this is a really cool way to connect with people.”

Lohmeyer adds, “It is so important for Arlington to be globally aware. We have a lot of German companies in Arlington so why keep cutting or only focus on Spanish?”

Davis adds, “The value system in Arlington is one of cultural diversity.”

Sebastian Chipman says when he came to class the first day of school he went in expecting an in person German class. But there was nothing, “and I had a free period on my schedule.” Chipman says he just had his first German 2 online class on Thursday. He says there was really no teacher. “I just clicked through my lessons. This isn’t ideal. It doesn’t seem the way to learn a language.“

Chipman first became interested in German when he took part in the Aachen exchange program when he was in fifth grade. “I loved it and got to know my family. I thought it would be cool to learn their language.”

In the meantime a position was posted on the APS website on Sept. 9 for a high school German language teacher. While the posting of the position is a step forward, parents say there are still unanswered questions.