This year, there are two new faces in the German programs at Brookwood School and Dalton Junior High School. Daniela Bellin teaches in the German dual language immersion program at Brookwood and Lisa Koengeter teaches German at Dalton Junior High School. The two teachers have moved to Dalton from Germany as part of the Checkpoint Charlie German-American teacher exchange program.
Caroline Woodason, director of school support, said that as the German dual language immersion program continues to grow, the need for qualified German teachers grows as well.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find American teachers who have a depth of knowledge in German content, standards and academic vocabulary,” Woodason said.
Through a recommendation from the Georgia Department of Education, the district found Checkpoint Charlie and began the process of bringing native German speakers to Dalton. Through the partnership with this program, Dalton Public Schools can access a list of hand-selected, qualified teachers willing to move to the United States.
“German teachers apply to the program, they interview them, they check references, and they vet them,” Woodason said. “It was a really great process, and we were able to hire two teachers this year. We are very excited.”
For Bellin, spending time in the United States has always been a dream, but she always assumed it would be too difficult to travel here.
“I never thought of coming as a teacher,” Bellin said. “But then it was so easy. It was like destiny.”
Bellin said she interviewed at a few other schools, but felt an instant connection when speaking to the Brookwood interviewers.
“I decided on the school because they were so nice,” Bellin said. “The interview was so full of positive energy and of appreciation, and I just talked to them in such a nice way. I think I made a good decision.”
Shortly after the interview, Bellin committed to Brookwood and was informed the district had hired another German teacher through the same program.
In Germany, Koengeter taught both English history and German. As a language teacher, she finds it both useful and challenging to spend time teaching abroad in English-speaking countries. After spending time in New Zealand, Ireland and England, Koengeter said she felt it was time to try and work abroad in the United States.
“It was just a matter of time before I needed to be somewhere else and challenge myself as a teacher,” Koengeter said. “I just wanted a different environment to grow and learn and get better at my job.”
After accepting jobs at Brookwood, Bellin and Koengeter began the process of trying to get visas during a pandemic, in a time when many government offices, embassies and agencies were completely closed and travel was highly restricted.
“It was blood, sweat and tears to get here,” Koengeter said. “I spent every bit of free time I had, my vacations, my holidays, working on organizing my move here. So, when I landed in Atlanta and I made it through immigration, it just felt like a gigantic weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. It was stressful, but I’m glad it worked out.”
Bellin said she questioned the decision many times during the long and stressful visa process, but the support of the district and school staff helped her to keep going even when she felt like giving up.
“There were some parts when I thought, ‘Is this really worth it?’,” Bellin said. “But this whole school system, they were here for us. They were writing letters. Eventually, we made it.”
Despite the visa and travel difficulties, both teachers said they enjoy working at Brookwood. For Koengeter, being from Germany has enhanced the teaching experience for the students in her class.
“The kids got really excited when they found out that I’m actually German,” Koengeter said. “It feels like they are more motivated and curious. I can use my own pictures of places I’ve traveled to in Germany, pictures of food I’ve cooked as a German. To connect the pictures to the person, it’s relatable and the kids are more engaged. It’s just easier for them to relate things to the country when there’s someone that has actually lived there.”
For Bellin, the opportunities in Dalton are abundant, especially the district’s technology and resources.
“We have so many possibilities here [at Brookwood],” Bellin said. “In Germany, I taught with a chalkboard, but here I have the overhead projector. It’s wonderful, you get all these things here. Coming here was a big step, and I think it was the right choice.”
According to Woodason, the two teachers are committed for at least one year, but have the option to stay either three or five years.
“They are both highly qualified German teachers with many years of experience, and they are fitting right in to our Dalton program,” Woodason said. “We are looking forward to continuing to grow this German program for years to come.”