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German teacher's passion rewarded

Tawnya Panizzi
| Thursday, June 3, 2004

It's not unusual for students in Drew Richards' German class to eat bratwurst for lunch.

They occasionally visit the Oaks Theater in Oakmont for a foreign film and routinely refer to Richards as "Herr," (German for Mister).

"German is something more than what we do in class -- more than learning about grammar," said Richards, a teacher with the district since 2001.

He teaches at the high school and Dorseyville Middle School.

"We have cafes, and we decorate the lobby of the auditorium. We write scripts and have the kids perform instead of being passive learners."

Richards' enthusiasm for foreign language likely is why he was chosen to attend the Governor's Institute for World Language Educators this summer.

He is one of only 100 people statewide to be selected.

Workshops will be held July 11-16 at Villanova University and will focus on proposed academic standards for world and classical languages.

"It's the only content area in which there are no set standards," said Richards, an Oakmont resident. "To see what kind of leadership role we can play in helping get those standards passed is exciting."

His hope is that work accomplished at the prestigious institute will help cement foreign language as a mainstay in standardized curriculum.

It is of particular interest at Fox Chapel Area, where school board members have proposed a cut in the elementary language program.

"Hopefully, our work will allow foreign languages to be seen as equally as important as other programs," Richards said.

He expects to share information learned this summer during classes for colleagues this coming school year.

Richards taught at Trinity Area School District in Washington County and the Upper St. Clair School District before coming to Fox Chapel Area.

His passion for the German language began as a young student, when his best friend's mother -- a native of Bavaria -- encouraged him to enroll in the language.

"She promised she would help us study," he said. Richards' fate was sealed with a study trip abroad where he got to soak in the flavor of German life.

"I fell in love with the culture and have been hooked since," he said.

It is a passion he hopes to inspire in his students. Richards often encourages his students to participate in regional German-themed events where they can get a taste of the Old World, he said.

"It makes you a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of your own community," he said. "The more exposure that kids have, the more well-rounded, open-minded they become."

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