In advance of receiving visitors from Germany, students in Bethel Park High School’s advanced placement German class prepared for a task that was best summed up by teacher Chris Tobias:
“If you can imagine what it would be like to be a junior or senior in high school and have the pressure of giving a tour of your school in another language, to people from that country,” he said. “There’s a ton of anxiety, but it’s going to be a really great learning experience.”
As a courtesy, the Bethel Park students spoke nothing but German as they led their counterparts, members of a youth choir called the Butterflies – that’s Schmetterlinge in Deutsch – around the high school building.
“It’s challenging, knowing that your German is very well below theirs in proficiency,” senior Evan Aronhalt said. “But it’s a good challenge in the way that you get to use what you’ve been learning in the classroom.
“And it’s interesting to hear about what their daily school life is like vs. our daily school life,” he observed. “From what I’m gathering, their school seems a lot smaller. So they were astonished by how large our gym is, how large our band room is.”
Joining Evan in escorting a trio of students from Germany were juniors Abby Kauric and Thorin Trypus.
“When we’re in German class, we’re all Americans. None of us is full German,” Thorin said. “So it’s different when we hear kids from Germany with their accents. There’s a bit of a learning curve to it, but you get used to it pretty quickly.”
The Schmetterlinge students, ages 8 to 16, hail from the city of Zwickau what once was East Germany. Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church, which has a partner relationship with a church in Zwickau, sponsored the visit.
One of the Mt. Lebanon members is retired Bethel Park social studies teacher Mary Garber, who made arrangements for the Oct. 2 visit to the high school.
“She’s a very well-traveled citizen of the world, so to speak, and we developed a very good working relationship before she retired,” Tobias explained. “And because she does so much with this German sister church, she from time to time has contacted me about these opportunities.”
While in the United States, Schmetterlinge was scheduled to perform in Pittsburgh, Erie and Johnstown, and to visit Niagara Falls, the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County and Washington, D.C.
On the day of the Bethel Park visit, half of the group went to Canon-McMillan High School, as arranged by German teacher Christina Hartmann.
She happens to have graduated in the same Bethel Park High School class as Tobias, and they also were classmates in the University of Pittsburgh’s German program. Plus Canon-Mac principal David Helinski used to hold the same post at Bethel Park.
“The two schools, at least with this program, have a lot of connections,” Tobias said.
In the meantime, he expressed enthusiasm about the opportunity afforded his students.
“This experience is going to give them something they can build upon,” he said. “It may not be the easiest thing for them to do, but I think it’s going to be pretty valuable.”