Teri Utley was a little self-conscious as she approached the microphone, but you could tell her yodeling wasn’t.
The Mazama High School senior and third-year German language student won the yodeling contest last week during the school’s annual OktoberFest celebration.
More than 100 German language students and their teacher, Kathleen Todd, took over the school’s courtyard, turning it into a German party complete with bratwurst, sauerkraut, and pretzels as well as games, singing and con-tests.
Many of the students dressed in traditional German festival clothing. For boys, the costume is called a lederhosen — leather shorts, suspenders and hats; for girls, the dress is called a dirndl.
“The kids really get into it,” Todd said. “It is so important to learn about a different culture so we are not so ethnocentric. When you study a foreign language, it’s important to learn the history of the people who speak it.”
Todd has been teaching German at Mazama High School for 22 years. The school is the only one offering a German foreign language program in the Klamath Basin, and one of only a few statewide.
Todd teaches German 1-4, offering four years of progressive advancement. Students in third- and fourth-year classes get both college and high school credits.
Other schools in the county offer first- and second-year Spanish; Henley offers four years of Spanish and four years of French. Mazama High School also offers four years of Spanish.
“We’re really lucky that we can offer German,” Todd said. “There are not too many German language programs around anymore.”
The program has grown substantially. Todd started teaching German with 38 students. This year, she has 130 students in five classes.
“I think partly students are attracted to it because it’s different,” she said. Spanish and French are Latin-based language; German is Germanic and a sister language to English.
Todd grew up learning German. Her mother was born in the U.S. but her grandparents are from the Black Forest region of Germany and only spoke to her in German.
Todd majored in English and minored in German at Oregon State University, earned her master’s degree in teaching from San Francisco State University and her master’s in administration from Grand Canyon University. She heads up the Klamath County School District’s foreign language department.
She believes learning a foreign language and the culture of the countries that speak those languages is an important aspect of a well-rounded education.
“It’s especially good for your brain to think in a different language,” she said. “And studies have shown students who learn a foreign language do better on tests and are able to think more critically.”
Understanding those cultures and especially the worldwide role of countries like Germany is key for a new generation of leaders.
“I think it’s definitely important,” Todd said. “Outside the U.S., Germany leads the European Union. It is an economic and cultural powerhouse with a lot of history.”
Todd participates in the German American Partnership program, which coordinates short- term exchanges among high school students and their advisers. And two years ago, she took a group of students to Germany for spring break.
While in Germany, she speaks German and encourages her students to do so as well. Germans, she said, make it easy for foreigners because they start learning English in the first grade.
The annual OktoberFest celebration is a way for Todd to highlight Germany’s unique culture and traditions and share the fun with her students. They sang traditional German songs, performed the chicken dance, tried their hand at yodeling and did the polka.
In Munich, the celebration lasts two weeks, spanning the last week of September and the first week of October. More than 6 million people attend.
OktoberFest originated in 1810, starting with a royal marriage reception that had a horse races for entertainment. It turned into an annual celebration and eventually spanned two weeks of festivities.