Sharing the German Language with High School Students
College in the Schools (CIS) is a nationally accredited program that gives ambitious high school students the opportunity to experience the rigor of college-level courses and earn transferable college credits at their own high schools. The German department was one of the first departments at the U to create a CIS program. Originally, two high schools participated. Now, over 500 high school students participate from twenty-four different schools across Minnesota that stretch as far north as Mora and as far south as Winona. Through the program, students who live far away from the University of Minnesota campus have the opportunity to experience and receive credit for college courses at their own high school. CIS also provides the schools with access to resources that enhance language instruction.
Ginny Steinhagen, who has been teaching at the University of Minnesota since 1998, is the faculty coordinator for the German CIS program. She has two years of high school teaching experience, which she believes has helped her lead the CIS program. “It’s a good fit for me,” she explains. “I have some knowledge about what high school teaching is like, and I really enjoy promoting the German language.” Her work is driven by the passion of the twenty-six German teachers from across the state involved in the program. “When we get together, it’s a chance for them to share ideas and talk about what is and isn’t working well. I always learn new things from them,” she says.
A main component of the CIS program is a field day that takes place each semester. All of the German CIS students pile into busses and travel to campus, where they will spend their school day learning and communicating with each other. “We try to balance having fun and giving them an experience that they couldn’t have at their high schools,” Steinhagen explained.
During the field day, students have the opportunity to hear people share their unique, first-hand experiences of historical or cultural events. In the past, students have heard Gerhard Weiss, a retired professor from GSD, talk about his experience living in Germany during WWII. He described the events that affected everyone living in Berlin, and he shared his personal experiences of living in this time with a Jewish father and a Christian mother. Professor Matthias Rothe has also spoken at the event, recounting his experiences fleeing East Germany and of the political discussions that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Students employ their learning of the German language at this event by interacting with students from other schools. “A German program in one high school might be small, so I think it is good for students to see that they are a part of a large community of students learning German,” Steinhagen states. Lastly, CIS students are able to see the campus and hear university students share what their lives are like at the University of Minnesota. “High school students are often apprehensive about attending the U of M because of its large size,” Steinhagen said. “However, hearing the students’ perspectives and seeing what the campus is like often changes their minds.”
More than 400 students attended this year’s spring semester field day on April 21st, and they had the privilege of hearing students from Graz, Austria discuss the current refugee situation. After spending the day delving into German culture and exploring campus, students go home exhausted, yet enthusiastic about post-secondary education and their decision to join the CIS program.