Monday, June 25, 2012

Roanoke Co. students test German skills in language's home

Some 21 Northside High School students who have been learning German got to spend two weeks in Germany for a bit of intensive reinforcement.

Dragana Kalinic hugs her son, Vlatko, a recent graduate of Northside High School, after his flight landed Sunday evening. Vlatko was one of 21 students from Northside High School who went to Germany.

Rebecca Barnett | The Roanoke Times

Dragana Kalinic hugs her son, Vlatko, a recent graduate of Northside High School, after his flight landed Sunday evening. Vlatko was one of 21 students from Northside High School who went to Germany.

Vlatko Kalinic, 18, graduated from Northside High school earlier this month; the next day he left for Germany.

On Sunday evening, he and 20 of his Roanoke County classmates returned from the two-week trip. Kalinic, who is of Bosnian descent, already is planning to visit Germany again.

"You can't always stay in one place all your life," he said.

Kalinic is one of a growing number of Roanoke County high school students who have opted to take German, the foreign language in the school division with the lowest enrollment.

Teacher Alan Strecker said that when he came to the school division in 2005, he taught part time at Northside and part time at Glenvar High School. Enrollment in Strecker's German classes quadrupled during his first five years at Northside.

"Now it's gotten even bigger," he said Sunday evening at Roanoke Regional Airport.

Strecker now teaches full time at Northside, and there is a part-time teacher, too. Strecker said German is offered at three of the county's five high schools: Northside, Hidden Valley and William Byrd.

Cecil Snead, director of secondary education for Roanoke County schools, said four foreign languages were offered last school year. German -- with 336 students -- had the smallest enrollment. About five and a half times more students took Spanish. French and Latin fell in second and third places.

Kalinic completed three years of German and two years of Spanish. His sister Jovana Kalinic, 16, also took three years of German, but the rising high school senior did not go on the trip with her brother.

"I don't like going places with him," Jovana said.

Strecker, a former Virginia Teacher of the Year nominee, said he takes students abroad every other year. He hosts German exchange students, sponsors Northside's German club and has gotten involved on campus in other ways, such as coaching athletics.

His enthusiasm for the foreign language and his outgoing personality likely played roles in the courses' popularity at Northside -- and the opportunity to travel may have sweetened the pot.

The trip cost each student about $2,000, but the experience is priceless. Strecker said.

"They get to live what I am teaching," he said.

The group left Roanoke on June 9 and arrived in Cologne the next day. The students lodged in the homes of western German families and took several side trips, including tours of the country's former capital of Bonn, a house where Ludwig van Beethoven lived, museums, churches and the Lindt chocolate factory.

Vlatko Kalinic's family was among the more than 50 people waiting for the arrival of Flight 2416 from Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday evening.

Kalinic's parents, sister, uncle and girlfriend waited at the edge of the airport screening area. Of the three ladies, no one knew who Kalinic would greet first.

"My husband said don't be disappointed if he picks his girlfriend," said Dragana Kalinic, Vlatko's mother.

Dragana Kalinic stood on her tiptoes to catch a glimpse of her son. When she spotted him, she moved from the center of the huddle and was first to embrace him. Vlatko shook his uncle's hand next, hugged his father, and skipped over his girlfriend to hug Jovana.

Vlatko then went back to Alexx Jennings, 16, his girlfriend, and bent down to hug her. He wrapped his arms around her waist, picked her up and kissed her on the lips.

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