Students from Orange Hunt Elementary School and West Springfield High School got to say Guten tag to President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a special visit to the White House earlier this week.
“Some of the kids shook their hands,” said sixth-grade teacher Ariane Thompson, who has been teaching at Orange Hunt for 12 years. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
About 200 students and teachers from Orange Hunt were invited to meet and great with the Chancellor and the President on Tuesday. Orange Hunt Elementary and West Springfield High School both have German language partial immersion programs.
"I thought it was kinda cool," said Orange Hunt parent Kari Mitchum, whose 8-year-old son attends the school. "It's not like people go to the White House like we did when I was growing up."
Richard Griffin, an assistant principal at West Springfield High School, spoke to Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn about the event. Filler-Corn helped get over 150 students, parents, teachers and administrators into the ceremony.
"I give Eileen Filler-Corn all the credit," Griffin said. "She has a genuine love and interest in education. For one of the first times, I saw high school kids acting just like little kids. They were so excited."
Students attended the arrival ceremony for the Chancellor where hundreds of dignitaries and members of the press were also on hand.
“We were positioned along with other students on the left hand side of the podium,” said Orange Hunt Assistant Principal Jason Pensler. “The students saw the military precession and parade. The kids really enjoyed it. That’s all they could talk about.”
Students from Orange Hunt’s third through sixth grade classes had to leave the school at the crack of dawn to arrive at the White House at about 7 a.m. Though students had to wait four hours to witness the 45-minute ceremony, teachers were pleased with how the students behaved.
“The kids were excellent,” Pensler said. “They were above and beyond anything for their age. I think it was just the excitement of seeing the President and the Chancellor.”
Teachers also prepared students for the visit by prepping them on the structure of the government in Germany. At Orange Hunt in Springfield, about 300 students in grades 1 through 6 participate in the immersion program. Students learn math, science, and health only in the German language. Other subjects are taught in English.
“The goal is to teach the kids the foreign language within their subject area,” Thompson said.
Though parents have to apply to have their child participate in the program, it is open to any student in Fairfax County. Several students who live in Fairfax Station attend the school for that purpose. The county also offers immersion programs in Japanese and Spanish.
“It was such a reward for the kids to tie their lessons to something more tangible,” Thompson said. “We all value our immersion program and we work really hard to support it.”
West Springfield German teacher Chris Trimble said that the event was especially applicable to his German 5 class, which has spent the last few years studying German politics and law.
"One of my star students talked to [Chancellor Angela Merkel] in German and she spoke back to her," Trimble said. "You get the first African American president and the first female president of Germany meting on one stage for the first time. That's a pretty big deal."