About three years ago, when the first of several German companies decided to establish operations in the Tennessee Valley, it began dawning on some of us that the arrival of global businesses might change the way we educate our children in this area. In fact, as part of my work with local organizations, I tried to contribute my part in making sure that our educational decision makers consider all the relevant aspects for this change.
The inconvenient truth, however, is that adjustments to our school system aren’t made easily – especially if those changes would affect only a certain part of the state. Of course, implementing advanced programs like the International Baccalaureate in public schools benefits all students but it also increases the burden on an educational structure that is already under some pressure.
To expect our local schools to cater to a niche need – maintaining and improving the German language skills of immigrant and expatriate children – was out of the question and virtually impossible. Which is not to say that language education at the Elementary and Middle School levels wouldn’t be desirable. In fact, it would be a large building block in fixing our educational system. But we chose to pick our battles.
All of these considerations, paired with the determination of local educators and parents led to the foundation of the Deutsche Samstagsschule, or German Saturday School, in Cleveland, TN. Initially our student body at GSS was exclusively formed by immigrant children with a German background and a broad range of pre-existing German language skills. It only took a few months, though, until German-speaking expat families in the area realized the value this GSS would provide to them and their children.
Following the start-up phase and starting in the next school year (2012/13) our GSS is now fully established to be supported by the German government (Zentralstelle für Auslandsschulwesen). German Deputy Consul General, Dr. Alfred Schlicht, underscored this backing by formally inaugurating GSS during Maifest 2012, the annual fundraiser for Montessori Kinder. Here is an amateur video capturing the speeches (Schlicht starts after about a minute in):
Dr. Schlicht’s comments really resonated with me and many of the GSS volunteers who have put many hours into this project and will continue to do so. He was right when he said that “Without the commitment and the common effort of parents, teachers, students, and the local economy such a project would not have been realized. […] This school may be mainly an initiative of Germans living here but it clearly shows the true ‘American Spirit’: Instead of complaining and asking for government’s help people take things into their own hands and get things done.”
Needless to say that we are proud of what we have accomplished so far. We also know that there is a lot of work ahead for Cleveland’s German School. But during this summer break allow me to reflect on how we got here. And highlight the fact that our program is featured on Germany.info, the official website for German missions in the United States:
We are proud of the recognition. It is merely an intermediary result. Let’s keep going – zu neuen Ufern lockt ein neuer Tag.