By Bob Skolnik
The study of German is ending at Riverside-Brookfield High School. In July, longtime German teacher Patricia Reeves, known to her students at Frau Reeves, decided to retire a year earlier than planned
Students did not learn of Reeves' retirement until just a couple of weeks before school started.
"It was a little bizarre, but I kind of expected it because my German teacher was really scared of COVID," said RBHS sophomore Carroll Creedon who took freshman German last year. "She was talking about it in late December, early January."
RBHS administrators tried to hire a new German teacher to replace Reeves, but they could not find anyone and have now given up looking for a replacement.
"We conducted a pretty extensive search for a German teacher," said Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kylie Lindquist at a recent school board meeting. "We're in a situation right now where we can't find a German teacher. We still have a robust Spanish program [and] we still have French as an option. But right now we are not able to provide students with a teacher who would be able to teach German moving forward."
RBHS Principal Hector Freytas told the Landmark that he tried hard to find a German teacher last summer but wasn't able to.
"It's not easy," Freytas said. "I reached out to the German consulate to help me find people. Unfortunately, right now it's hard to find a certified German teacher."
Without a German teacher in the building, students taking German this year are doing so through the Illinois Virtual School, a Peoria-based company that provides online instruction.
Many German students at RBHS decided to drop the class rather than take it online with a non-RBHS teacher. This year 28 students, only seven of whom are taking German I, are taking German at RBHS, down from 50 last year.
In contrast this year, 843 students take Spanish and 95 take French. With the low numbers of students taking German, the school cannot justify continuing to search for a full-time German teacher.
Going forward, RBHS students already taking German can continue to take it through the Illinois Virtual School, with the school district footing the bill. Incoming students who want to take German, or any other course not offered at RBHS, can do so virtually and get credit for it, but they'll have to pay the cost of the class.
Reeves taught German at RBHS for 25 years. She was known as a strict but dedicated and passionate teacher.
"I liked her a lot," said sophomore Taylor Baird who took German I last year. "I thought she was a good teacher."
Both Baird and Creedon say taking German online with the Illinois Virtual School is nothing like taking German with Reeves.
"It's not nearly as good, it's not as hands on," Baird said of his online German II class. "And they're doing the best they can, but there's not much they can really do to change that fact. Just being one to one with someone is a lot better."
The students say they watch videos and get assignments online. Occasionally, at most once a week and usually less, they have an online chat with the teacher.
"It's really helpful because it gives me a gauge for where I'm at, but other than that I'm not really learning anything," Creedon said. "It's a very boring thing, because I don't get to talk to any classmates."
Learning pronunciation and speaking German is especially difficult because there is little interaction with other students taking German.
"I don't really have anybody to practice speaking German to," Creedon said.
Freshman Jack Baird, Taylor's younger brother, is trying to learn a new language completely online taking German I through the Illinois Virtual School. He says it's not going very well.
"I feel like I'm not learning anything," Jack Baird said. "I feel like it's going in one ear and coming out the other."
The Baird family has hired a tutor to come in once a week to work with the boys to supplement the online instruction.
Both Taylor Baird and Creedon say that they are not planning to take German III next year if it is online but would take it if RBHS had a German teacher.
"I don't feel that I'm learning enough this year to keep myself going through German III," Creedon said. "Half the kids from my German class of last year didn't do German II this year and half of the kids who did do German II this year have either already dropped out or are thinking about it because they really dislike this new system. I don't blame them."