Claudia Prager began attending Deutsche Schule Charlotte in 1974, the year the school opened.
Forty years later, Prager’s two children attend the Saturday school, and Prager is an assistant teacher there.
In its four decades, the school has taught hundreds of students German language and culture, and many have gone on to attend universities in Germany or work for German companies.
Prager, whose parents are German, attended the school from ages 3 to 15, when her father worked for BASF in Charlotte; she later spoke German regularly in her career in international business.
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“I know that without attending German school as I was growing up in the U.S., it would have been extremely difficult to just jump into the German school system in 10th grade,” said Prager, who speaks German with German business associates at her job at Britax Child Safety.
“German school helped me prepare for that and paved my international career path and appreciation of the German and international cultures.”
The school celebrated its 40th anniversary in late January with a celebration at the Charlotte City Club in uptown, where DSC Principal Sigrid Belluz received the Martin Boltzius Award from the German government for her work promoting German language and culture.
DSC started with 20 students in two grades in 1974, and now offers weekly German immersion classes for ages 2 through 12th grade for almost 200 students. The school is accredited and supported by the German government.
In a letter congratulating the school on its anniversary, German diplomat Peter Ammon said use of the German language is on the rise in the Charlotte region.
“Against this backdrop, the DSC is a very important institution, which gives children, youth and adults yet another vital tool to succeed in today’s global economy,” he wrote.
Almost 200 German-owned companies are in the Charlotte region, and almost 30,000 people living in North Carolina speak German, according to German School officials. About 5,700 students are enrolled in a kindergarten-through-12th-grade German program in North Carolina public schools.
School leaders trace Charlotte’s connection to Germany to the mid-1700s, when German settlers began arriving in the Piedmont. In 1768, Charlotte was named after Sophie Charlotte von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a German princess who married King George III of England in 1761.
The German presence in Charlotte continued to grow over many years, and in the early 1970s Friedel Farkouh, Kay Schnaidt, Gordon Freeman and the late Agnes Hostettler opened the Deutsche Schule.
Belluz, also an adjunct professor at Wingate University, became the school’s principal about 25 years ago. She’s overseen the school’s moves from Providence Day School to Charlotte Country Day School to its current location at the British International School of Charlotte in Ballantyne.
The current location at the school formerly known as the British American School of Charlotte has helped the German school grow, Belluz said, in part because it is near Interstates 485 and 77. Students travel to the school from all over the region, some as far as a two-hour drive.
Students gather at 9 a.m. every Saturday during the school year. The school has 15 teachers, all accredited and mostly native German speakers, and a library housing more than 1,400 German books and other materials.
DSC students and families celebrate major German cultural events, including Laternenumzug, a lantern parade to celebrate St. Martin’s Day, and Karneval, a German version of Mardi Gras.
Belluz said she hopes to develop a weekday German immersion preschool and get it accredited, so students can get high school credit for DSC work, while maintaining the school’s original vision.
“My goal is not to teach them only the language, but to open their minds to other cultures and other ways of thinking, and to respect other cultures,” Belluz said.