Last semester, Verena Draper visited classrooms at Normal Park and started speaking German.
When the American students didn't understand her, the German teacher acted frustrated and started speaking louder and slower, gesturing with her hands.
After the students were thoroughly confused, she explained to them that this likely is how their new German classmates would feel when they arrived in January. If they don't understand English, she told them, louder and slower won't help much.
The result of the pep talk, said Normal Park Principal Jill Levine, has been a relatively seamless transition for the German children of Volkswagen employees who now have spent about a week at their new school.
"The most important thing right now is that they're making a social connection and that we make them feel welcome. The academics will follow," she said. "Kids don't need a language, they can communicate."
BY THE NUMBERS
* 5: German students at Normal Park
* K-4: Grades the students represent
* 2: Average number of years the German students will stay in the United States
Five students in kindergarten through fourth grade arrived on the campus of Normal Park Museum Magnet's Lower School last Thursday to begin their dual education in English and German. Since their parents have signed short-term contracts with Volkswagen, the students will return to Germany in several years and must be on grade level in their native language.
Normal Park's "German school," which county officials promised VW officials, allows the elementary students to take regular classes with their English-speaking peers and then spend about three hours a day reviewing a similar curriculum in German.
Ms. Draper, a native of Germany, teaches literature, math and science, all in German, but also helps the students with their English homework. Education is "taken very seriously" in Germany, Ms. Draper said, so the parents purchased every single German textbook the teacher uses and brought them over to the United States.
"I have to take the textbooks and make copies because I don't have enough," Ms. Draper said. "The parents bought everything they could, even for the upcoming year. They've been very supportive of the program."
During a recent class, "Frau Draper" led a discussion about The Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales. Clutching a hardback notebook filled with the beginnings of her own fairy tale, fourth-grader Ella Brockhaus, 10, reflected on her time in Chattanooga so far.
"I like it here," she said in English with a distinct British accent.
As for differences between Normal Park and her previous school in Germany, she gave a wry smile and shrugged her shoulders: "We speak English here."
First-grader Max Reckert lived in Michigan for six months before moving to Hamilton County with his German father and American mother, so he is mostly bilingual.
"My other school in Germany was pretty strict," he said. "We couldn't wear blue jeans. That's really strict."
Next year, Normal Park expects about 25 or 30 German students spread across both the upper and lower school campuses, Ms. Draper said. In addition to a second German teacher, administrators hope to add German classes for the English students.
By fifth grade, German students also begin studying a third language, usually French or Latin, so offering one of those two languages is something to think about, Ms. Draper said.
For now, one student's mother is teaching a German "academy" after school on Fridays that will focus on the culture and language.
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