Based on Roy Engfield’s “History of the German Language School”, condensed and edited by Jacqui Ehninger
The Founding of the School
Often, the early events leading to the forming of an organization are like steps in the sand – lost in the winds of time. And we may ask ourselves: How does an institution such as this one get started in the first place? Oh, we may have dates and names, both dry and brittle on their own, but what were the events leading up to the German School opening its doors?
Surely the German Language School has its earliest roots in post-war immigrations from German speaking countries to Canada. The largest wave of immigration, in the 1950’s, brought with it some 300,000 German-speaking immigrants, a group larger than almost any other that had come to these shores. The children of these German immigrants made their appearance in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In this second generation, born and raised in Canada, the first child often still spoke a passable German and understood everything, the second child understood much but spoke haltingly, while the third child might already have difficulty understanding the language, having learnt to speak in a predominantly English environment on the street and in school. Slowly the German was slipping away.
During this time interest built up in the community to try and preserve its German heritage, leading Ingrid Ruthenberg, in March 1971, to conduct a survey of the German community in order to determine the desirability of, and support for, a German language school.
The survey proved doubters wrong (“why would children want to attend school on Saturdays as well as during the week?”), when the German Language School opened its doors to its first 37 students, in the basement of the Martin-Luther-Church on Preston Street, on October 2, 1971.
At the same time, German classes were also being held at the German St. Albertus-Church on Parkdale Avenue. These classes eventually joined the German Language School.
The quarters in the Martin-Luther-Church before its eventual rebuilding, were rather cramped: The students were divided into three classes, and the most senior of these, one teacher recalls “sat in the kitchen between stove and refrigerator.” But with some improvisation and much enthusiasm a start had definitely been made and the future looked promising.
The Moving School
Over the next two decades the school and its leadership underwent a number of changes.
The spaces in the Church soon proved too small as well as generally unsuited for classrooms and for the needs of a school. The School made its first move; it began its second year of operation with 96 students in 1972/73, in the High School of Commerce on Rochester Street, at Gladstone.
In this, the School benefited from instructions by the Ministry of Education to local school boards to open their schools for community purposes.
In 1974, the School moved again, this time to Glebe Collegiate, at Glebe and Bronson Avenues, where it stayed until 1990.
Following these relatively stable years, budget cuts and changes in the Ottawa Board of Education forced the School to turn nomad for a few years: From 1991-1995, we found a home in Hopewell School (Glebe), in 1996 in the Continuing Education Centre on Cambridge Street, in 1997, we moved to St.-Thomas-More School on Blohm Drive (after a change to the Roman Catholic School Board) at which point, thankfully, the school was able to stop pitching tent in a new location every year and staid put until 2008/2009, when the Elementary school found its current home with the French Board in the Des Pins School on Ridgebrook Drive in Gloucester.
The credit classes had been separated earlier and they were located first at St. Patrick’s High School and later at St. Pius X High School. This was an arrangement which put definite difficulties in the way of parents who had children in both elementary and secondary classes, but the board preferred it for reasons of efficiency.
Other changes happened during this time as well:
In 1975 adults were, for the first time, admitted to the school as students, largely in conversation classes.
The number of students has waxed and waned due to population influx and of course such historic events as the reunification of Germany in 1989/1990, which, in its wake, brought a noticeable increase in enrolment. Student numbers reached an all-time high of 326 in 1994 and, these days, hover around 160.
The school incorporated in February, 1983 and Annegrete Koch, a former principal of the School, became chairperson of the founding Board of Directors. Our ever important and dedicated parents sit on the Board of the School. They also make up the Parent Council, which has by now become the most important governing body of the School, managing the School’s affairs, and mediating between the School and the School Board.
In the 40 years of the school’s existence we’ve grown from a volunteer-run institution, fuelled by goodwill and improvisation, into a proper second-language school offering instruction by qualified teachers, according to rules put forth by school boards and the ministry of education.
We have students enrolled in both the “Deutsches Sprachdiplom I (DSD I)” and the “Deutsches Sprachdiplom II (DSD II)” program, which is the equivalent of the German “Abitur”.
The student population expanded to include non-German groups, who each had their own reason to be interested in German. The emphasis shifted from maintaining existing language facilities to teaching and developing new ones.
Throughout this time, it has always been a goal of the school and its staff to impart to their students not only rules of grammar or correct pronunciation, but also a sense of German culture and a general knowledge of things German. This includes such extracurricular activities as the Sommerfest or Nikolaus and Christmas, Fasching celebrations and “Schultüten” zum Schulanfang.
Our current principal of the school, Gabi Kaindl, who took the post in 2010, has been tirelessly at work to provide an environment that is both academically as well as culturally stimulating and provides the School with that spark of enthusiasm and passion, which bonds teachers, students and parents together into a vibrant School community.