On the evening of Dec. 1, Hopkins German teacher Kelly Dirks heard her name called out unexpectedly during the middle of a three-course banquet that concludes the German immersion camp she takes students to every year.
Dirks had been taking students to “Waldsee”—a Concordia College language program near Bemidji—for five years, bringing 33 students to this year’s camp. Yet she had no idea what was going on.
It turns out Dirks was in for a treat: Concordia was taking the opportunity to honor her with its Leadership in Language Award for the five years she’d taken students to the camp.
“It was very thoughtful of them to even remember,” she said.
Dirks, who teaches German at Hopkins High School and both junior highs, was actually unfamiliar with the program until she started teaching German. She saw the benefits of the camp right away, though.
Each year has a theme. This year’s theme was everyday life for German youth. The students cycle among stations centered on that theme. This year’s stations included practice using a Berlin transportation map and ordering at a coffee shop.
The students, typically eighth grade and older, work with native German speakers and college students fluent in German. It’s a busy weekend that Dirks said would be much harder do by herself back in Hopkins.
“If I were to do the six stations we did there, I would have to spread them out a lot,” she said.
In other ways, though, the camp is just like any other. The students are broken up into groups in which they know at least one person and are with students from other schools—a balance between comfort and making new friends.
They have different houses that bunk together, each with two counselors fluent in German. They learn new songs and dances. They play sports and games and do crafts.
But through it all, they speak German.
“Instead of me trying to get one sentence out of each of the kids, they can have whole extensive conversations with people in German,” Dirks said.
The students aren’t fluent themselves, though. The camp encourages them to stretch their language abilities. Dirk has found it works best for her level III and level IV students.
“There are lots of charades going on at all times,” Dirks said.
That pays dividends back home. Students speak out more in class and are more confident in trying out their language skills.
“They are so motivated to do anything,” she said.