Among those 5 years and older in Tennessee
• Almost 6 percent, or 328,390, spoke a language other than English at home.
• 58 percent, or 183,068, spoke Spanish
• 4.2 percent, or 13,804, spoke German
• 3.9 percent, or 12,935, spoke French
• 3.6 percent or 11,729, spoke Chinese
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-08 American Community Survey
CLEVELAND, Tenn.—It wasn’t a weekday, and it wasn’t at school.
It was a Saturday in First Lutheran Church where Micah Debelak and other children like him — with at least one German parent — learned to name the different parts of the body in German.
A group of local Germans got together to start the German Saturday School, or Deutsche Samstag Schule, to immerse their children in the culture and language.
And the timing couldn’t be better, organizers said, with Wacker and Volkswagen coming to Bradley and Hamilton counties.
Christian Hoeferle, board president of Ocoee Region Multicultural Services, said he expects at least a couple of hundred German families to move here, at least initially. His organization worked with the parents to form the school.
Erika Burk, human resources director for Wacker Polysilicon North America, said the company is very excited about the opportunity. She expects 60 to 70 Wacker employees to be here by the end of the year.
“Children will need to learn English but also maintain their German, and this is a great way to do that,” she said.
Micah, 8, said learning German isn’t too hard, even though he speaks mostly English at home.
“It’s nice to know a different language; you can talk to other people,” he said during snack time.
His mother, Germany native Gudrun Debelak, said Micah had an early lesson in the value of multilingualism.
“We went home two years ago, and it clicked with him: ‘Oh, wow, I’m learning this for a reason,’” she said.
Micah said he couldn’t stop speaking German on the way back.
Every other Saturday, parents volunteer to help children practice speaking and writing German. Even the arts and crafts are based on German tradition.
This Saturday, children used raw potatoes carved with cookie cutters in shapes, from horses to butterflies, to use as stamps.
“That’s something we all used to do in preschool or even elementary school,” said Hoeferle, also a native German.
For Lisa Eulo, who moved to the United States in 1997, it’s important for her children to know where they come from.
“You are connected to your past, to your family and other people in your community,” said Eulo, who teaches German and French at Walker Valley High School and spearheaded the program.
The idea came from a visit Eulo made to the German School of Atlanta. Founded in 1983, it now serves more than 200 students. Eulo hopes the Cleveland school someday will be as big.
All of the children so far have some German connection, but the school is open to anyone in the community, Hoeferle said.
Someday, he said, the organizers would like to have other Saturday schools for languages such as Spanish, Chinese or Ukrainian/Russian.
“This is just a training field for us,” he said.
ABOUT THE SCHOOL
Cleveland’s German Saturday School meets every other Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at First Lutheran Church, 195 McIntire Ave. NE.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Brigitta Hoeferle, firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-303-8432, or Lisa Eulo at email@example.com or 423-716-2795.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...