If she had stood at the podium a minute longer, senior Chelsea Speer’s voice may have broken into sobs.
Her German IV classmate Erika Davis organized a rally on Dec. 17 to protest Reynoldsburg School District’s proposal to eliminate the high school’s German program.
Nothing has been decided yet, but unless the spring levy passes, the district will have to make more than $15 million in cuts, Superintendent Stephen Dackin said.
The class "has been really personal to me," Speer said. "It is my favorite class with the same students every year. I had the chance to grow up with my own mini-family at school.
"My dad was stationed in Germany while in the Air Force, he was my role model and I wanted to be like him," Speer said. "My little brother would like to take it in a few years."
According to Dackin, the district will determine which courses to eliminate based on the demand of that class.
In the next few months, the students will request their classes for next fall. The district aims to have one teacher for every 25 students. If only a few students elect to take German, the program would be in jeopardy, Dackin said.
In the past, the district has offered some classes despite low enrollment if they thought the course was an asset. For example, advanced placement statistics has fewer than 10 students this year.
The students and community members questioned why the one German teacher and one French teacher might lose their jobs, but the six Spanish teachers would remain.
Most students choose Spanish, often because the course is offered at the junior high level, Dackin said. If funding was not an issue, more languages could be offered in the junior highs and even early in elementary, he said.
The district would save more than $70,000 by eliminating German. Most of the savings would be due to laying-off teacher Carah Casler, Dackin said.
The district may have to exist by state minimum standards and the community will be "shocked to see what that looks like and greatly disappointed," Dackin said.
"The kind of energy Erika (rallied) to preserve German is (what the district must) martial to make its case for the community," Dackin said.
The high school could offer Mandarin Chinese for three years with no expense to the district. The federal government and the Chinese government will pay for the program.
Stephanie Liven, a German professor from Kent State, traveled to Reynoldsburg to speak at the rally.
"When Erika told me Chinese may replace German and French, I was dismayed but not surprised," Liven said. "This is the trend in Ohio and the United States."
The federal government considers three languages to be critical – Chinese, Russian and Arabic. The latter two are for security reasons, but Chinese could present huge market potential, Liven said.
Liven said she thinks it’s wonderful for schools to offer more languages, but not at the expense of current programs.
After the free three years, the program would still need funded and the work visa for the Chinese teacher would expire. There are not enough Chinese-speaking Americans to fill the teaching positions, Liven said.
In addition, "It is highly implausible to offer Chinese with the expectation of using it when you leave high school," Liven said.
To be able to understand German well enough to converse easily with a native speaker, students must take four years of lessons, but to be proficient in Chinese, a student must take 10 years of classes, Liven said.
"I see it as very short-sighted to eliminate German for Chinese," Liven said. "China has potential to offer a lot of trade. Germany already offers massive amounts of trade and massive amounts of employment."
German firms employ 36,833 Ohioans while Chinese firms employ 224, Liven said.
On the advice of Van Wert High students who successfully defended their German program when Chinese was proposed as a replacement, the students will bring their protest to the school board meeting Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.
Davis hopes for a large response.
"You can’t ignore an eight-ton gorilla," Davis said.