Written by: Emily Kvitko
The school’s German program was named a German Center of Excellence by the American Association of German Teachers (AATG), placing it in the top five nationally. According to Executive Director Keith Cothrun, the jury was impressed with the way the program values both its students and its curriculum.
German teacher Kerstin Helbing took over in 1999 and helped establish a solid program. However, she was caught off-guard when she was notified of the award. “It was actually really cool because I was at school and I got an email from the AATG Executive Director with the news,” she said. “It’s like ‘oh, wow!’ It was unbelievable.”
Cothrun believes that the Gunn’s program shows excellence in every category. “The panel noted the highly qualified staff with credentials appropriate to the teaching assignment,” he wrote in an email. “[However], most impressive is the program’s curriculum.” Cothrun feels that the program offers a strong structure that is well taught, reflecting high standards.
According to Helbing, the German program has the fewest number of students, compared to the amount of students in Chinese, French, Japanese, and Spanish. However, it is still just as strong as the other language classes .
Helbing strives to incorporate unique learning styles with culturally authentic materials, such as books brought over from Germany, and hopes to keep students interested in order for them to feel connected with what they are learning. “Every year on Dec. 6, the German club brings candy and puts it in the German’s students’ shoes,” Helbing said. “We do this as a tradition celebrating the coming of Saint Nicholas and rewarding the good children.” Around the same time of year, German II students compete to see who can build and decorate the best gingerbread house.
Another difference is that the entire program revolves around one teacher; this arrangement helps unite the students. “You get that family feeling as well as a very trustworthy environment,” Helbing said.
The fun and lively atmosphere of the class reminds Dahlen, who lived in Munich for a year, of actually being in Germany. “Speaking a language that is not so common feels cool, and being able to share it with others is what makes it so special,” Advanced Placement (AP) German student sophomore Kastania Dahlen said. “We all come together like a community rather than a regular classroom.”
The German language students also get the opportunity to interact with students in Germany. The German American Partnership Program allows students to travel between Germany and Gunn. “It helps them experience something fresh and new,” Helbing said.
Helbing is often willing to change the class based on students’ requests. This semester, for example, students chose to focus on extensive reading.
The German program has five class periods, as well as a German club and honor society. “Extracurricular activities and special events are clearly integral elements of the program,” Cothrun wrote. Every October the club holds a popular barbeque for all students in celebration of the annual beer festival Oktoberfest, one of the most famous and large-scale events in Germany.
Helbing’s incredible achievements as head of the program did not come as a light load. “Not a lot of people know that you have to prep for every single period that you teach,” she said. According to her, teaching German can be difficult but it always has its rewards, which she finds priceless. “It is so much fun,” she said. “My fun, I take from you guys, my students.”
Students expect the program to continue its strong growth and development. “I’m truly proud that we have a super successful German program here at Gunn and feel lucky to be a part of it,” Dahlen said. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”