Boylston Schul-Verein and the German Saturday School

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The Boylston Schul-Verein was granted its charter by the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on September 17, 1874. This official date of incorporation was preceded by an initiative of a number of citizens of German descent living in the Boylston Station section of Jamaica Plain to found a club in 1871. The club had its beginning under the name The Independent German Club of West Roxbury. The club proceeded to purchase land at 45 Danforth Street [currently the site of Spontaneous Celebrations], Jamaica Plain in 1873 and in 1874 constructed its first club house.

During its formative years, the Boylston Schul-Verein included a German language class for children of members (and neighbors), a drama club, Gymnasium (High School) and a singing group.  Its charter then, as today, charges the club with “the physical and intellectual development of German American youth, as well as the social organization of its adults for the pursuit of general humane, civil, cultural and political welfare of the American way of life” (Constitution and By-Laws of the Boylston Schul-Verein). Today, the Boylston Schul-Verein has become the center of German-American social, cultural, and educational activities and programs in Eastern Massachusetts.

From its infancy, the German Saturday School has been an integral part of the Boylston Schul-Verein. The School was started by several German musicians to include August Fiedler (uncle of Arthur Fiedler, prominent former conductor of the Boston Pops) and Carl Ludwig (grandfather of Carl Ludwig, who was a former Chairman of the School Administration, and also was a previous President of the Association of American Teachers of German and the Boylston Schul-Verein). It is the oldest language school for children in Massachusetts.

In 1881, the Boston Symphony was founded. In its early days, the Boston Symphony was successful in attracting many German musicians from Berlin. Eager to maintain their culture and language in the foreign land many of the German musicians became members of the Boylston Schul-Verein. They assisted in various ways, especially in teaching the German language and occasionally performed an impromptu concert for the enjoyment of the members.

In the beginning, classes were held on Sunday mornings as the normal school week was six days. Accordingly, the school was called German Sunday School. In its first year, the school had 75 students. The first principal was Professor Koler, a German teacher from the German Evangelical School.

“The gymnastics instruction, at first thought to be for boys only, generated so much interest that a girls class was scheduled for Saturday afternoons. The boys went on Sunday mornings, as part of their German Language instruction. Not only were children of members enrolled in the school but neighborhood playmates from non-German speaking families attended. The Boylston Station section of Jamaica Plain became a beehive of activity centered around the original Sonnabend Schule. ” (Karl Ludwig, Die Brücke).

Initially, students were taught free of charge. In order to support the school, parents organized many fundraisers i.e. during the late 19th century, mothers would knit and sell the finished products at a bazaar. The school furniture, being desks with ink wells were donated by Dr. Zakrzevska. Later the school hired and paid for trained teachers.

On February 17, 1877, Karl Schurz, American Ambassador to Spain and a member of President Lincoln’s cabinet, visited the German Sunday School.

When the six-day school week came to an end, the teaching of German was moved to Saturday and hence the School has since been called the German Saturday School.

During World War I the school did not function because of the prevailing anti- German sentiments. From 1937 to 1939 the School was located in Roxbury. Because of anti-German feelings even among Germans, the school was closed again in 1940.

A New Beginning

The German Saturday School reopened in 1959 on the initiative of the German Consul General Dr. Günther Motz and Vice Consul Elfriede Krüger. The consul’s secretary, Ruth Schwab, became one of the first teachers and the first class took place at the consulate.  This was a time of German renaissance with the Goethe Institute coming to Boston and the founding of the Goethe Society.

The revived school was designed as a language school for children from all countries with an emphasis on language and culture rather than German identity. Richard Penta, the first pedagogical advisor to the School and teacher at Belmont High School as well as German professors Erich Bude from Boston University, and Harry Zohn from Brandeis University helped to design a curriculum that would complement the high school curriculum of local schools in Brookline, Cambridge, Belmont, Lexington etc. and prepare students to gain advanced placement in high school or college. After the initiative of the consulate, the school became part of the Boylston Schul-Verein and was run by volunteer parents who were also members of the Verein.

A steering committee took form, led by Boylston Schul - Verein President, Carl Ludwig, and including his chosen collaborators, Kurt Schenck and George Schaub. The German Consulate General lent its continuous support through its representatives, in succession, Hans Joerg, Siegfried Frank, and Otto Meyer. Beginning in the mid 1960’s, the Goethe Institute provided its services in testing the qualifications of candidates for the teaching staff of the German Saturday School.

The student body which started with children of German immigrants in the early beginnings, changed to a more international background. In 1983, students came from 25 different countries and about 50% were of German extraction. They were also rather successful in achieving the goals set out by founders in 1959. Students in the higher grades participated in the annual Association of American Teachers of German (AATG) Tests. In 1983, many reached 100% achievements with a class average of 84% in German II and 91% in German III. Seven students also took the College Board Advanced Placement Test.

In 1988, 90 students, six to sixteen years old were enrolled; half of them of German ancestry. Today the majority of the students of the German Saturday School - Boston claim German heritage with 87 parents out of 127 families coming from Germany, Austria or Switzerland, 137 parents are American and 29 parents come from other countries ranging from Korea, India, Iran, Poland, Albania, Belgium to Mexico. Most of the families live in the greater Boston area, although a few families travel from as far away as New Hampshire, Rhode Island and many parts of Massachusetts some of them driving 60+ minutes every Saturday to get to school.

English is the dominant language spoken in the home of most students. A few families come from Germany for a limited amount of time, working as university professors or business people. For those students it is important to recognize that they are not alone in Boston, that there are other children who speak the language. For American students and many children from all over the world, the school opens a new world.

Boston University provided the classrooms for the original 27 students. Rooms were at the School of Liberal Arts on Commonwealth Avenue. There was an interruption during the school year 1973-74 when the school was at the University of Massachusetts at 250 Stuart Street in Boston. From there the school moved to the School of Nursing Building at 635 Commonwealth Avenue. For the school year 1988-89, when the School of Nursing was closed as it became “victim of unfair competition from state-subsidized nursing schools” (John Silber), the school went to its current location, the School of General Studies at 871 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston.

For the school year 1984-85 and 1985-86, the school offered a second location with one class at the Boylston Schul-Verein in Walpole. This effort was discontinued the following year as the class would have had to be split, and the resulting small class sizes made it economically unfeasible to continue the program. In addition, a shortage of German teachers made it difficult to find qualified faculty to teach the classes and under the guidelines of the sponsorship by the German Government the location was not eligible for their grant. Thus, the classes were consolidated again onto the B.U. campus.

Since its reopening in 1959, the school has been funded through grants by the German Government, tuition payments, the support from parents, the Boylston Schul-Verein, and Boston University. The school is governed by a School Administration which consists of volunteers. Directors in the 1960s and 1970s were Siegfried Frank, Carl Ludwig, Eric Wellner and Helmut Henneberg. Henry Athanasiou was Director from 1978 to 1985 followed by Walter Matson, mathematics teacher at Assabet Valley High School in Marlboro from 1985-86 to 1989-90. Dr. Joan Murray, Professor of German at Regis College was Director from 1990-91 to 1997-98 with the current Director being Paul Konetzny, Director of EDI Application at Staples, Inc. Many of the former directors received the Verdienstkreuz am Bande des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

Walter Matson took over the school as Director after a short reign by Dr. Bernard Hall as President of the School during the school year 1984-85. Under his guidance, the school investigated the assignment of a separate tax identification to be able to operate as a non-profit organization independent from the Boylston Schul-Verein. This initiative never materialized and ultimately resulted in a $3,700 operating deficit of the School which was borrowed from the Boylston Schul-Verein and repaid over the following two years.

Up until 1994, registration took place on the first day of school. With a growing student population, this method was no longer feasible and registration by mail was introduced. In 1998, 90% of registrations were by mail. This allowed the administration to plan the number of classes and teachers needed. Before then, these decisions were made on the first day of school after everybody was registered.

The School’s annual events, the Christmas Party and the Abschlussfeier represent a tradition going back to the 1960’s. While these events have taken place at the Boylston Schul-Verein in recent years especially since the construction of a new facility in Walpole in 1989, these events used to be in different locations: i.e. the 1967 Abschlussfeier was held at the Workmen’s Hall in Norwood, Massachusetts, the 1968 and 1971 Christmas Party was at Boston University, Sherman Union, Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. The 1973 and 1974 Abschlussfeier were celebrated at the Broadmeadow School in Needham.

The Curriculum

In the 1960’s, the curriculum was focused on conversational German and geared toward enhancing the German skills students had learned overseas or at their local high school. The teachers had a lot of academic freedom in offering a program that fit the needs of the students. Lessons lasted two hours. In the 1970’s, the lesson plan was expanded to three hours, and more emphasis was placed on the study of grammar. The school used the book Auf Deutsch Bitte in conjunction with slides and other visual materials. A portion of the school day was also devoted to games.

Over time, it became clear that a more formal program was needed. In the 1980’s the school’s curriculum was based on the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich German Series with the book Unsere Freunde and “Die Welt der Jugend” and the Sprachheft 1 & 2 of Hueber Verlag (upper grades) and Komm, Bitte Kurs 1, 2, 3, Bild und Wort from Hueber Verlag (lower grades). Visual materials were provided by the Consulate General’s library which provided a variety of films related to history and culture.

While first graders learned vocabulary with flash cards and group plays, the highest grades engaged in the reading of 20th century literature (i.e. Boell, Hesse, Waiser, Zweig), poems and ballads by Goethe & Schiller and ultimately prepared for the Sprachdiplom offered by the Ministry of Education, of the former Federal Republic of Germany. On the average, students remained in the school for about five years, moving to the next higher level each year.

In 1986, the German Saturday School became a member of the German Language School Conference (Interessengemeinschaft Deutscher Sprachschulen) which itself was founded in 1978 with the purpose to support and coordinate German Language Schools in the U.S.  The School continues its membership to this day and takes advantage of the many programs offered by the Conference, in particular, workshops for the teachers. The School also receives support through this organisation in its annual request for books.

In 1992-93, the School introduced the series Wer Wie Was on recommendation of the Academic Advisor of the German government Hans Georg Salm and the German Language School Conference (GLSC). This book allowed for a consistent approach throughout the different grade levels with a series of four books. In addition, teachers continued to bring in additional materials to supplement the lesson plan. For the school year 1999-00, a new book Das Deutschmobil will be introduced.

The German Saturday School is also a member of the AATG (Assocation of American Teachers of German) and administers its annual AATG Test for the upper grades during the month of January. The Sprachdiplom was administered for the first time during the school year 1990-91.

The Youngest Students

For many years parents requested a German speaking program for the preschool and Kindergarten age siblings of their older brothers and sisters who were attending the German Saturday School. Upon the arrival of Donna Giromini during the school year 1990-91, the German Saturday School could finally realize this dream. Consequently, the School added a class for the younger children (ages 4 to 6). Soon, the number of children attending required that two Kindergarten classes were offered with mostly four year-olds in one class and five-year olds in another.

With the advent of the book “Jump into German” in 1992 which was introduced for grades 1 to 3, the younger grades were also integrated into this project teaching method. Each week specific themes and vocabulary were introduced, thereby building vocabulary from year to year. With the help of Annemarie Weicker, a suitable selection of stories, games and art projects was worked out for use in these groups. The curriculum for the younger grades was gradually enriched with many new initiatives from teachers and parents. Karin Lemmermann came on board and developed the crafts aspect of the curriculum. Krisjann VanOpdorp started the Deutsche Elternbücherei allowing for the continuation of the curriculum at home. She also began to visit the lower grades to read a story from the Elternbücherei supporting the Thema der Woche.

The classes of the lower grades have also been aided by a music program which started with a volunteer parent Victoria Morrow playing the guitar. Angela Evans added new songs and during the school year 1995-96, Birgit Danckert joined the faculty as classroom teacher and officially became the School’s music specialist providing a music program for all the lower grades. In 1998, she recorded all her music on a cassette with an accompanying book available for the parents to allow them to sing with their children. The music program follows the thematic ideas of each lesson.

In the mid 90’s the use of videos in the class room became possible. The School bought a video recorder, and the Elternbücherei provided the videos many of which were recorded in Austria, Germany or Switzerland by parents visiting Europe. A video converter was purchased to allow viewing on the American TV system. This new practice introduced the children to German children’s programming such as Augsburger Puppenkiste, Die Sendung mit der Maus, Asterix, German fairy tales, and German cartoons as well as many American shows such as Sesamstrasse and Walt Disney movies familiar to the children which are popular with the German children as well.

The Deutsche Elternbücherei

The Deutsche Elternbücherei was founded by parents under the direction of Krisjann VanOpdorp with the mission to facilitate parents and children to continue to learn German together outside of school. The Elternbücherei was first offered to parents of the lower Grades (1 and 2) in 1992-93, and during its first year registered 21 families with 29 students. By the end of the school year, the German Early School Library (its original name) was the proud owner of 143 titles which were bequeathed by the German Saturday School, purchased from membership contributions, and donated by member families. The following school year, the library was expanded to include students at all class levels. Today, the Deutsche Elternbücherei has 83 families with 121 children. The Elternbücherei is also an excellent resource for the teachers.

Parents donate books, original videos, audiocassettes in German and raise funds via a nominal annual membership fee to purchase additional materials in Germany. These funds are supplemented by the annual Dankeschoen Program for the teachers of the school. Families will donate a book, audiocassette, videotape or make a financial contribution to the library in honor of their child’s teacher prior to the holiday season as well as at the end of the school year. Since 1996, the library organizes a flea market soliciting donations with proceeds of the flea market going to defray administrative expenses of the library. Throughout the years, the library has made substantial additions to its collection via purchases and many donations. The collection kept growing over the years and in 1999 it had approximately 1,000 books, 150 audio-cassettes and 300 videos. During the school year 1998-99, with the help of Andrea Alves the library established a computer software corner adding CD ROMs of children’s software in German to its collection.

With the increasing number of materials, it became more challenging to keep the library organized. The biggest challenge has been to set up and take down all the books, cassettes and videos every Saturday morning. Parent volunteers accomplish this task. They also label the new books, videos and audio cassettes, repair the existing inventory and keep a complete database on a computer. Each book is color coded and carries a symbol for the year it was acquired. Materials are displayed by subject i.e. picture books, fairy tales, poetry and music, stories and novels, educational books and beginners’ Thema der Woche. Books are also sorted by age groups and cover such diverse topics as holidays, seasons, house and home and geography.

Today, the Elternbücherei has become an integral part of the school and is probably one of the best German children’s libraries in the USA.

Student Enrollment

As the chart below shows, enrollment in the German Saturday School Boston changed considerably over the years. From 1960, when the school had 27 students, interest in the school climbed considerably until 1983-84 when a high of 155 students was reached. With the passing of Proposition 2 1/2 in the Massachusetts State Legislature, funding for schools declined, and many language programs in local schools were cut. As a result, the interest in the German Saturday School as a means to enhance the local school programs diminished as well resulting in a drop in enrollment to 90 students in 1988.

In an effort to increase enrollment at the school, the Director Walter Matson actively advertised the school via the Boylston Schul-Verein, the Goethe Institute and the Goethe Gesellschaft and placing advertisements in various newspapers including the Boston Globe, the Middlesex News and the Transcript Publications Dedham.

This trend was reversed with the introduction of a curriculum for younger grades, coupled with a renewed interest in the German language after the unification of Germany in 1989. The recent economic expansion has helped as well so that today we have an all time record number of 188 students.

Fees were much lower in the late 70’s and early 80’s as funds from the German Government on a percentage of the total budget were much higher and the parents were more active in fundraising i.e. providing items for sale at the annual bazaar during the Open House and the Octoberfest of the Boylston Schul-Verein. In order to raise money, members of the parents committee sold folk costumes and pants, T-shirts, pencils and buttons and asked parents for donations. In recent years, fundraising has become more limited to the sale of advent calendars at the School and at the Holiday Bazaar at the Boylston Schul- Verein as well as the sale of Stollen for the Christmas season.

Paul Konetzny

During the most recent decade the student population more than doubled from 90 students in 1988 to 188 students today. While we celebrate the 250th birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland and the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it appears that the study of the German language has found renewed interest. The German Saturday School is at full capacity with 15 classes, 13 of which are at full or excess capacity. For the first time, the school is no longer able to accept all students and had to start a waiting list. Also, for the first time it has become a very realistic endeavor to start a full-time German School in the Boston area.

April 1999. Boston.

Sources: The Boylston Schul-Verein, by Carl Ludwig, in Germans in Boston, published by Goethe Society of New England; Die Geschichte the Deutschen Sonnabendschule, by Martina Janisch, in 1983 Jahrbuch der Deutschen Sonnabendschule (first Yearbook); Profiles of the German Saturday School by Arnim von Friedburg, 1989; The History of the Boylston Schul-Verein, Boylston Schul Verein Membership Information 1994; The History of the Boylston Schul-Verein, by Carl Ludwig, in Die Brücke; Sachbericht for the school years 1971-72, 1972-73, 1985-86, 1986-87, 1996-97 and 1997-98; Annual Report to the Boylston Schul-Verein for 1984-85; 8-85 German Saturday School Status Report, Program marks closing of BU Nursing School, The Boston Sunday Globe, May 1, 1988; 1979-80, 1985 and 1987 School Brochure, The Boylston Schul-Verein News 12/68, 12/71, 5/84; Ein Mauerblümchen Regt Sich, in Begegnung 2/1981.

Special thanks go to Gustav Scheer, previous treasurer of the German Saturday School and former President of the Boylston Schul-Verein who provided access to historical records including the Erblass of Carl Ludwig (former Director of the School and former President of the Boylston Schul-Verein), Dr. Joan Murray (former Director of School), Dr. John Wells (Professor of German Emeritus, Tufts University), Paula Wells (former employee of German Consulate General-Boston) , Dr. Klaus Miczek (current member of School Administration), Donna Giromini (current teacher), Krisjann VanOpdorp (current member of School Administration), Annemarie Weicker (previous head teacher), Dan Evans, (previous Treasurer), Andrea Alves (current Registrar), Susanne Haller (previous teacher), Richard Penta (academic advisor in the 1960’s and 70’s), Irmgard Hicks (Goethe Institut Boston, former teacher), Bodo Reinisch (member of School Administration 1973 to 1998) and Siegfried Frank (previous Director in the 1960’s).

By Helga M. Lyons. © Copyright German Saturday School Boston,, reprinted with permission.