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In the Press

Reprinted from The Issaquah Press, August 31, 2005

New German-immersion preschool

By Elisha Grange

A new German immersion school is opening this fall for area preschoolers. It will be taught entirely in German and is designed to help children ages 3 to 5 learn the German language and culture.

The Seattle Area German American (SAGA) School will open Sept. 7. The target enrollment for the first class is eight students and there are three spots remaining. The school is still accepting applications.

Preschool is only the first step. The school's administrators plan to open a second school in Seattle mid-school year to meet demand. If all goes well, the schools will each add a grade as their initial classes age and move up.

"For example, next year we will be offering preschool and kindergarten," wrote Thea Fortune, president of the new school, in an e-mail. "Then preschool, kindergarten and first grade and so forth, as enrollment allows. Similar German schools in other metropolitan areas have had good success with this approach in recent years."

Those areas include Boston and Portland.

The goal here is to eventually develop a fully accredited K-12 school that blends German and American curriculums.

In kindergarten, some English will be introduced to help develop reading and writing skills in both languages. By the time students reach higher grades, the German/English ratio will be about 60/40.

The new school was started by a group of parents who wanted their children to learn to speak a second language, or in some cases, retain their heritage.

"I grew up in Germany and want my son, Sean, to grow up bilingual," said Uschi Nagel, who has lived with her husband and son here for two years. "It's a great opportunity to be in America, but I want him to be exposed to German culture through me and the school."

Nagel and other parents volunteered their time and resources in a drive to get the school licensed, recognized as a nonprofit institution and declared tax exempt.

The German government has been very encouraging of the new school, and went so far as sending a German diplomat, based in Los Angeles, to Issaquah to meet parents and administrators.

If school officials can prove they are able to provide a successful learning environment, the German government will give them additional resources, said Heinz Kohlmeier, the German diplomat who's helping with the start up.

Kohlmeier is a language consultant who helps start new schools that are teaching German across the world. He has already consulted with the school, connected officials here to other German schools and provided some resources for teacher training and materials.

"There is a new focus on starting new schools in the United States after September 11," he said. "The relationship between Germany and the United States was slightly disturbed. Germany decided to support more schools in America. Then they can understand the way we do things, business and the political scenery."

Germany usually makes a school prove itself before stepping in with increased assistance, Kohlmeier said. For example, a successful German school in Portland that was started 10 years ago is just now gaining acceptance and assistance by Germany. But the new emphasis on creating German schools in America will cut that process down to one, maybe three years, Kohlmeier said.

For now, the SAGA School will be housed in the Issaquah Community Church. There is already a German school that has been operating there for a number of years on Saturdays, so the facilities are in place. The SAGA School will offer four hours of class each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. School officials hope to offer a full-day class as soon as they can get the appropriate licenses.

School officials plan to eventually phase out the preschool component, and allow other preschools to feed directly into their school. In the future, they hope to have graduating high-school seniors who are accredited with an American high-school diploma, a German Abitur (baccalaureate) and a Swiss and Austrian Matura.

Kohlmeier hopes at least 50 percent of the students enrolling are American.

"We want to offer experiences for Americans interested in bilingual education open up to the world and have more opportunities," he said. "Learning two languages opens new universes to you. Students learn to think out of different perspectives. You can only do that when you achieve a language as fluently as your mother tongue."

He pointed out that bilingual students have more opportunities to work and study internationally. But overall, they will have a different perspective.

"These children learn there is another way for a school system," he said. "It will produce tolerance and openness to other cultures."

Reporter Elisha Grange can be reached at 392-6434, Ext. 241 or egrange@isspress.com.