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SPARK for German Pilot Program is Wunderbar

by Kutztown University

May 27, 2022

After the first day, one young participant insisted on being called Jager (hunter), the German equivalent of his first name. Another learner was going to start practicing with his brother, who is taking German at Kutztown High School. After two weeks, all students displayed an almost Pavlovian reaction to the word Bonbon (candy). These anecdotes, among many more, speak to the success of SPARK for German, a pilot program and partnership between the German section of Kutztown University’s Department of Modern Language Studies and the Kutztown Area School District (KASD).

An initiative of the American Association of Teachers of German and the Goethe-Institute, SPARK, with its playful approach to German lessons in after-school programs provides professional development for future German instructors and enables students across the United States to start learning German at an early age.

Instrumental to the pilot program’s launch were Karise Mace, KASD Endeavor teacher and internship coordinator, and Rick Hadley, KASD German teacher. Both KASD staff and Kutztown students enthusiastically supported the program with their exceptional volunteerism. Jessica Southgate-Sands, a KU German major, describes the program as rewarding, exciting and memorable.

“Being able to share our passion for the German language with these young minds is incredibly motivating and inspiring,” Southgate-Sands said. “While our young learners took home new knowledge and the foundations of the German language, we student teachers took home valuable experience with the language that just cannot be acquired in a lecture hall.”

When graduate Harrison Beil ’22 first decided to get involved in SPARK, he was looking for an opportunity to practice his teaching techniques. After working with SPARK for the first few weeks, Beil said, “I never would’ve guessed that it would be a much fun as it was. It was very exciting to be involved with such an energetic crew of kids.”

On the last day of SPARK, university president Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson and KASD Superintendent Temchatin visited the Kutztown Elementary site.

Due to higher-than-expected demand from district children, SPARK operated in both Kutztown Elementary School and Greenwich Elementary School and served 23 students in grades three through five. According to Dr. Lynn M. Kutch, professor of German and SPARK program coordinator, the German section plans to offer the program again in the fall and expand to eight weeks. Additionally, the KU student coordinator will be able to earn internship credit.

“It was really important to me to devise a way for students moving forward to get internship credit for the tremendous amount of work they put into SPARK,” Kutch said. “In addition to the credits, they are also gaining valuable professional development experience.”

Kutch has already gotten requests from surrounding districts to expand the program even further.

“I have already heard from some eager incoming students who heard about SPARK from their high school teachers. With that kind of growing interest, expansion could be a possibility.”

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