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September 13, 2005 > Language school has a rich history all its own

Language school has a rich history all its own

The German School of Fremont offers classes, tradition from both Germany and Fremont

by Pamela Rosen

It is school without grades, a school where 4-year-olds enroll with senior citizens, a school where students come back year after year, sometimes for decades. It is a school with an unbroken 43-year history of teaching and learning in Fremont. For most of its existence, The German School of Fremont has been largely unknown. This year, however, the non-profit Saturday language school hopes to change its anonymity...but won't change anything else. Aside from the traditions of German speaking lands, The German School of Fremont has its own traditions to uphold.

Tradition is a big part of the German School of Fremont's appeal. Transporting charming old world German, Austrian and Swiss cultural traditions to American suburbia, the extra experience helps make learning the language more memorable. For the school's native German-speaking teachers, it's a taste of home away from home.

Starting off the school year is the rowdiness of Oktoberfest, and that leads to the children's lantern parade for St. Martinstag. From the European-flavored visit from St. Nicholas (where children place their shoes outside their classrooms and find that St. Nicholas has filled them with sweets while they weren't looking) to the festive songs and rich homemade Christmas luncheon every Weihnachten (Christmas) party, The German School of Fremont creates memories to last a lifetime. At the same time, the students learn German, a language no longer offered in the Fremont schools, but still a major language of world-class business and engineering.

In the spring, there is the silliness of Fasching, Germany's equivalent to Mardi Gras, a dance around the May pole on Maitag (May Day), and the ongoing tradition of performances by the children's classes, which delight in showing off their newly-learned language skills.

"It's a spoonful of sugar that goes with the work involved in learning a new language," said Jim Hay, the school's newly-elected president and also the school's current longest-regularly-attending student. Hay is entering the presidency of the school at the beginning of his 11th year of study. "We know it's difficult, after a week of work or school, to get up every Saturday morning and come to class. There are times when every one of us has said, 'I just don't feel like doing this today.' But then we remember what we get out of it, and that we don't want to miss a once-a-year tradition that might be happening that week, and so we draw up the discipline and go. It's always worth it."

Students at the school come from all walks of life and come to school for every imaginable reason. Some come because they're planning a trip. Others want to learn German to enhance another hobby, such as music, history, genealogy, or, as some students in the school do, for a love of German-made model trains and toys. Some are just picking up education they felt they missed earlier.

Though the school does not provide accredited units towards graduation, high school students enroll because they can no longer take German in their regular schools, but want to acquire the skills they'll need for college. It is also a chance to meet other like-minded teens.

Children as young as 3 years, 9 months can begin studying, and for them, learning the language is perhaps the easiest. Children tend to pick up new languages easily, and by the time they reach advanced levels, the children are writing German language essays for competition.

At 43, The German School of Fremont is a mature organization with a rich history and a robust style. Recognized and rewarded repeatedly by the German government, it is ready to tell residents of the Tri Cities and beyond that a valuable resource for language, culture and international social contact is available for everyone in the family. Everyone, that is, who can get into the tradition of getting up early on Saturday mornings.

The German School of Fremont begins its fall semester on September 17 at Kennedy High School in Fremont at 9:30 a.m. Tuition rates begin at $175 per semester, with volume discounts for families who attend together. For more information, see the school's website, (Students of the school will learn that the "ds" stands for "Deutche Schule") Recorded information is also available at (510) 247-8701. For personalized answers to questions, write to

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