Elon’s German Studies Program hosts N.C. German Day

Nearly 300 middle school and high school students and teachers from around North Carolina met at Elon for their first in-person annual N.C. German Day celebration since the pandemic

Among foreign languages, French and Spanish get most of the attention in American schools, but Wednesday was German’s time to “scheine.”

More than 250 middle and high school students and their teachers from across the state convened at Elon this week to mark N.C. German Day. In a Moseley Center takeover Wednesday, school teams battled it out in singing, poetry and skit competitions, spelling bees and verb conjugation contests, trivia quizzes and extemporaneous speaking challenges.

Three people on a stage at a podium
Wendy Burgbacher of Cary Academy, left, Assistant Professor of German Kristin Lange and Associate Professor of German Scott Windham welcome participants to N.C. German Day

Even Lakeside Dining Hall got into the spirit, with Harvest Table providing schnitzel and traditional German cuisine for lunch.

Hosted by Elon’s German and German Studies Program, it was the first time the state organization has met in-person since March 2020. Twelve schools participated on campus with others Zooming in remotely for hybrid competitions.

“This is the one thing that most German programs have over our French and Spanish teacher colleagues. There’s no French Day. There’s no Spanish Day,” said Deron Hablutzel of Providence High School in Charlotte. “This encourages the enthusiasm to learn German and that spreads, so it helps build our programs.”

The annual event is organized by the North Carolina chapter of the American Association of Teachers of German to promote education of German language and culture. The chapter founded the event in the 1980s, locating it each year at colleges and universities in the central Piedmont. Elon hosted once before, in 2009.

“German is often the smallest world language program in our respective schools, so our kids might sometimes feel like they’re the only ones learning this language,” said Wendy Burgbacher, a teacher at Cary Academy and NCAATG’s president elect and vice president. “It’s fantastic for them to see all the programs across the state and that never happens anywhere but here.”

Assistant Professor of German Kristin Lange and Associate Professor of German Scott Windham helped organize the event and collect Elon undergraduate volunteers to assist German Day participants.

“We are thrilled that we could host N.C. German Day 2023 and be part of an event where the German community of North Carolina could come together again after COVID,” Lange said. “Campus was bustling with excitement for German language and culture”

A group of students in a coffee shop
Elon undergraduates meet with middle and high school students to talk about college life and German Studies inside Irazú.

A clutch of Elon undergraduates stationed themselves in Irazú for open meetings with middle and high schoolers who wanted to learn more about the college application process, life on a campus and about studying world languages in college.

“We’re here to promote the study of German and show students that it does benefit you after high school,” said Kiara McDonald, whose German program in her Colorado high school consisted of about 15 students. A biochemistry major, McDonald says her German Minor classes and participation in the German Club offer a break from a science-heavy course load.

Lange and Windham said feedback from participants was all positive. The event was sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Cultures; German Studies; Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences; the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education; the Office of Admissions; Elon Dining and Delta Phi Alpha (German Honor Society).

“Because not everyone takes German classes or speaks German, there is a community around the study of German. Our undergraduates and staff helped to build that with this event and to encourage and validate that with these students from around the state,” said Associate Professor of German Scott Windham.

Burgbacher frequently hears from current and former students that German Day is one they reflect on fondly.

“It’s a highlight of the year for our students, and one of the highlights of their high school career when they look back on it. They might forget what they learned in chapter seven, but they remember German Day,” Burgbacher said. “It’s just great fun.”

High school students seated in Alumni Gym cheering
Deron Hablutzel, far left in the front row, and students from Providence High School in Charlotte watch and cheer as results of their competitions are announced.