The Kat G. Family

'When my daughter was in kindergarten, I read a feature article about Deutsche Schule Melbourne in The Age. We live in North Fitzroy, so I included it in the mix of local offerings we were considering. I had the feeling she’d really take to the language immersion challenge. But we don't speak German or have any German heritage. So I also had a few concerns. Like, how would I help her with her homework? Would she be excluded by other students if she couldn't join in games or conversations? Would we be excluded from the community as a family?

My husband and I attended an Open Day and were particularly struck by the teaching staff. They were obviously qualified and experienced but it was also palpable just how much they loved working at the School and believed in what it had to offer. So we decided to take the plunge, confident at least that she'd be supported by a young, energetic and caring team.

Here's what we found:

Homework was actually pretty straightforward for the first few years, mainly spelling and basic maths. As my daughter got older, she learned to take advantage of the additional optional study times, called Lernzeit, to ask questions we couldn't help her with at home. (Though you'd be surprised what you can nut out with the help of a good old fashioned dictionary. Also: discovering bizarre German compound words in the dictionary is absolutely hilarious. Yes, we don’t go out much.) We also found that teachers were really accessible and happy to help via email or additional appointments. But, to be honest, I can’t recall a time when this was required. The program seems designed to offer support within school hours that targets each student’s specific constellation of needs.

Non German-speaking families like us make up over a third of the class and the School population. It is a surprisingly diverse community, with a lot of local yokels but also families from all over Melbourne and the world (including China, Egypt, Portugal, Turkey, South Africa, the USA and Brazil.) My daughter's foundation class included: a sizeable chunk of students who knew no German whatsoever; some who could speak German but not read or write it; others who could understand when German was spoken to them but not speak it with confidence; and one family who had just stepped off the plane from Deutschland. I have no idea how she did it, but their teacher had them all speaking, reading and writing at the same level by the end of the year.

I can honestly say that I have never heard of a student being singled out for the way they speak or their family heritage. Students are obviously aware of each others’ native languages but, if anything, use their confidence to help each other out. (This has been a particular gift during remote learning through the COVID pandemic lockdowns.) The language of the school yard seems to be English. But I’ve also seen students switch seamlessly between languages, hardly aware that they’re doing it, to ensure that no one is excluded.

The same goes for school and family gatherings. My husband often tells of walking in to a room to collect my daughter from a birthday party and having a group of German dads offer him a beer and automatically continue their conversation in English so he could join in. The DSM community started over ten years ago with eight students and a passionate group of teachers and parents. Even though it has grown more than twelve times over, the School community still has the feel of a small group who share much and celebrate often. It’s a very welcoming and open space and, for many families who have no other relatives in Australia, can be like another family with whom to share the school journey and the ups and downs of life.

So I’d like to reassure any family who is considering Deutsche Schule Melbourne but is worried that their lack of German language skills is going to disadvantage their child. I’ll leave it to the staff to talk you through the academic outcomes and the ways in which immersion works. I just want you to know that, in our experience, the phrase that most accurately describes DSM is "as many hands build a house, so many hearts make a school." Your child will be genuinely nurtured by this big-hearted school community.'