For Dr. Mary Ann Niemczura, the German language is not taught in the classroom, but learned through interactions and experiences with the culture. This belief is what prompted the Cicero-North Syracuse High School teacher to create the "Hands Across the Ocean" project.
Created in 1998, "Hands Across the Ocean" is a way for students in Dr. Niemczura's German 4 and 5 level classes to interact with students in Germany via pen pals, allowing C-NS students to hone their German skills, and the students in Germany to brush up on their English language abilities.
In 2007, Dr. Niemczura's classes began videoconferencing with Marlise Kasper's grade 10 English classes at the Albert Schweitzer Gymnasium in Gundelfingen, Germany, in the Black Forest area. The classes have been in contact ever since, and hold approximately two video conferences each school year.
The most recent video conference was held April 14. For two hours, Dr. Niemczura's group of approximately 50 eleventh and twelfth grade students asked and answered questions of their German pen pals ranging from summer vacation and favorite foods to movies and plans for the future. The two groups also sang songs, including "Head, shoulders, knees and toes."
"The students are much more engaged in the language when they are speaking with people their own age and having fun," said Dr. Niemczura.
During the video conference, the C-NS students were also reunited with the six German students that visited Cicero during Foreign Language week March 7 to 13, another aspect of the "Hands Across the Ocean" project.
During the visit, Frederieke Czaja, Anne Dernedde, Julia Ege, Lea Mittendorf, Julia Schwarzkopf, Lara Willman and Mrs. Kasper caught a glimpse of life in the United States by sitting in on classes at C-NS and interacting with the students, visiting the Carousel Mall and a Syracuse Crunch hockey game, eating at the Dinosaur BBQ, and of course, visiting New York City.