Alumni Lead German Centers of Excellence

December 18th, 2023

Excellence breeds excellence, or so the saying goes. In Tucson, perhaps Qualität bedingt Qualität is more appropriate.


This fall, the German program at University High School joined those at the University of Arizona and Empire High School in being named a German Center of Excellence, the highest honor awarded by the American Association of Teachers of German. The programs at both high schools are led by alumna of the UArizona program, resulting in myriad connections and strong pipeline between the high school and university programs. About a dozen current German Studies majors are alumni of the two schools.


“This recognition is huge,” said Barbara Kosta, Head of the Department of German Studies. “It’s a legacy of the department to have all these excellent teachers locally in the high schools who are sending their students to us.”


Kerstin Meyers has been the instructor of the UHS German program since 2016, after teaching at both the university and community college levels since earning her master’s degree in 1999. The approach for high school is naturally a bit different, she said.


“I felt like my mission became to make sure we study more efficiently and effectively instead of doing work that doesn’t get as much return for the effort,” Meyers said. “I do a lot of activities in class that involve engaging all students through partner and group work, so they have an opportunity to use the language most of the time. I want to make sure students really take with them the skills and the preparation to succeed at the next level.”


Meyers said university faculty members have visited her classes over the years to give presentations and share in activities with the students.


“That brings down barriers so students feel comfortable reaching out to professors there and finding out more about the university,” she said. “Having success and being able to communicate in the language makes a difference in wanting to continue with it.”


Gabriel Juarez, now a senior double majoring in German Studies and Psychology, started taking German as a sophomore at UHS. Growing up with Spanish and English at home, Juarez was drawn to German because he knew nothing about it.


“I thought German seemed more challenging and it was much more interesting for me,” he said. “When I was in class, I could sense it was a good teacher who facilitated learning. She was dynamic. I liked a lot of the creative projects and cultural projects.”


After high school, Juarez continued in German, at first to fulfill language requirements, but was interested in continuing to learn about the language and culture, so he declared a major.


“It’s a small department with a lot of people passionate about what they do and go above and beyond. All the faculty are amazing and very attentive to the students,” he said.

UArizona was named a German Center of Excellence in 2013, the second year the designation was awarded. Empire High School received the designation in 2018. Empire’s teacher Veronica Ostertag earned her Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching and master’s degree in German Studies.


“With their dedication to excellence in German language instruction, these award recipients promote the transatlantic friendship between the U.S. and German-speaking countries and foster the much needed intercultural awareness so their students can lead successful lives in a globalized world,” said Priscilla Layne, president of the American Association of Teachers of German.


Meyers said that intercultural awareness is a crucial component in teaching any language. 


“World languages have a really important function beyond just teaching the language itself. I think students realize when they come through the program that it’s about learning global competency and how to be a global citizen,” Meyers said. “It’s about having the flexibility and open mind to understand that other societies function in different ways and have different perspectives. I think students really take to that and come out with a broader worldview, no matter what language they learn.”