The Upper Arlington school district said “Wilkommen” May 4 to members of Germany’s national parliament, the Bundestag, who visited UAHS during a U.S. tour promoting a long-running student exchange program.

For 34 years, Congress and the German Bundestag have maintained a student-exchange scholarship program that each year has allowed approximately 350 American high school and college students to study in Germany and 350 German students to study in this country.

“The school was elected because of (its) German Club and the excellent work the teachers do there,” said Michael Reinold, a spokesman for the delegation. “The idea was to visit a regular school to get an impression of high school life in the United States.

“It was so impressive to meet the teachers and especially the students. They do a great job and the students learning German at school are the future for vivid transatlantic relations.”

Soccer clearly helped connections between students and the German lawmakers, as it was a topic of conversation when the Bundestag delegation visited a German language classroom last Thursday morning.

Group members also were visibly moved by a song performed in their native tongue by Amy Leacock’s Vocal Ensemble students.

Tricia Fellinger, a German teacher and German Club adviser at UAHS, said about 220 students take German language classes at the school.

The high school class is an elective, and it follows instruction at both of the district’s middle schools that starts when sixth-graders are introduced to German, French and Spanish through a six-week exploratory program.

“(Sixth-graders) receive six weeks of instruction in each language so that they gain an appreciation for different languages and cultures and are able to make an informed decision when they register for a language in seventh grade,” Fellinger said. “Students then receive one high school global language credit after they successfully complete the first level of their elected global language over the course of seventh and eighth grade.”

According to the Ohio Department of Education, 40,000 native Amish and Mennonite speakers of Deitsch, a German dialect, live in Ohio.

But ODE statistics show that just 194 Ohio school districts offer German language classes, and the number of German language programs has dropped in the state from 234 in 2014 to 218 in 2016.

Fellinger said German continues to be a strong program at UAHS for several reasons, including the need to prepare students for working in today’s global marketplace.

“Germany plays an increasingly important role in today’s global economy, and many engineering, manufacturing and technology companies are looking for people with German skills,” she said. “Proficiency in German will give the students a competitive edge in internships, set them apart from other job applicants and give them more flexibility in their careers.”

Fellinger said the German curriculum at UAHS fosters an understanding and sense of family heritage for many students, or seizes upon student interests and helps make connections to classroom learning.

“We incorporate cultural and historical topics into our courses,” she said. “We view the German language as the vehicle to learning about the culture and history of the German-speaking countries.

“So many of our students have German roots and identify themselves as German-American. They would like to learn more about the country from which their ancestors came. Other students are interested in German history, culture, or sports teams and want to be able to connect to their interests on a deeper, more meaningful level.”

Reinold said the delegation enjoyed its visit to UAHS and was pleased to receive a warm reception from members of Congress about the continuation of funding for the exchange program.

“German-American relationships are very important,” Reinold said. “Both nations are close allies and face a lot of common challenges.

“It’s not a relation between politicians but a friendship of the people. Exchange programs keep these relationships vivid.

“Especially the experience living in a host family is very important and the core of the program,” he added. “It helps so much to understand how the other side ticks.”

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