Two pre-kindergarten students at Holy Rosary Catholic School mash the top of their hard-boiled, colorful eggs against one another with a smile and giggle.
They might not know it yet, but they are participating in a well-known German and eastern European culture tradition: ostereierpecken (or egg tapping).
A few moments earlier, fifth-graders recited German words and numbers with Skyline High School senior Anna Kelly, who taught a 12-week German language course at the private school during the winter.
This school year has been the first time the German language and culture has been taught at Holy Rosary.
But the school’s goal wasn’t just to teach children how to communicate in a foreign language. The effort was geared to help open up students, who already take Spanish classes every year, to more diversity and different cultures, administrative assistant Vanessa Prairie said.
“At Holy Rosary, we’re always looking for ways to expand the kids’ knowledge in a variety of different ways,” Prairie said. “This is the first time we’ve had German in this school.”
Kelly, who studied four years of German during high school, taught the language to 18 fifth-grade students every Wednesday for her senior project.
Why? Because of her love for a language. (About 4,400 Idahoans currently speak German inside their homes, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.)
“I’ve just always liked the language and the culture around Germany, and so when I was thinking about my senior project, I was like, ‘I want to do something I like to do. Something I want to pursue,’” said Kelly, who will look to take a gap year after graduating before trying to study at the College of Eastern Idaho and study abroad in Germany.
“Anna did a fabulous job,” Prairie said. “The fifth-grade students were super excited and were kind of wishing the program was a little longer.”
Kelly said she taught students the basics of the language — numbers, colors and greetings — on a whiteboard during 30-minute periods for her senior project.
Kelly wasn’t alone in bringing the German language to Holy Rosary, either.
Rosa Maria Fink, who is from northern Italy and speaks an Austrian-German dialect to her children, volunteers at the school weekly to teach her son and 13 other 4-year-olds German traditions and some words. The dialect Fink speaks is spoken by residents of South Tyrol, a mountainous area in northern Italy, according to the website for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Fink has volunteered all year, she said.
Maria Fink said learning multiple languages can help with memory and mental health, and create more synapses in the brain for young students.
There is scientific data from The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages that supports Fink’s position.
There is a correlation between language study and higher ACT and SAT scores. Multilingualism can also lead to increased cognitive abilities and intelligence, and even offset age-related cognitive losses, according to the organization.
“Memory, learning in general, concentration, multitasking or critical thinking, or problem-solving,” Maria Fink said. “It helps with all of that.”
Prairie said Holy Rosary will look to introduce more German classes in the future.
“Our city is growing,” Prairie said. “We have a lot of people from all over the globe that are moving to Idaho Falls, and we have that opportunity that’s presented to us more and more to learn different cultures.”