SYLVANIA — This year, the Screven County High School German program has taken on a new dimension.
German instructor Jim Sheppard was awarded grant money to purchase I-Pod touches and other technology to help supplement student learning.
“Mr. Sheppard is one to step out and go above and beyond to try new things,” said April Beasley, Screven’s technology coordinator and a former student of Sheppard’s.
She wrote the grant that was awarded to the school’s Advanced Placement (AP) German and AP English programs. Engaging AP Students through Mobile Handheld Computing was the name of the title II-D competitive federal grant, awarding the amount of $65,000, she said. The grant provided I-Pod touches, an I-Pod nano for video recording and podcasting, 5 Mac-book computers, and a Mac-book Pro per classroom, she said.
“Mr. Sheppard is a teacher who has never been intimidated by the kids’ knowing more about technology than he does,” Beasley said. Instead, he uses that to his advantage, she said.
Beasley said that Sheppard uses the touch-screen devices like mini-computers. Students can access various applications to help with translating or to watch media clips they are used to seeing already, but they watch them in German, she said.
Sheppard’s ability to relate to the students and their interests, Beasley said, is what makes his students excel.
A Screven County native, Sheppard has spent 25 of his 28 years teaching at Screven County High School. His students include those in grades 9 through 12 who enroll in German I, II, III, or AP German.
“Our German foreign language program is looked upon as one of the elite programs in the state,” Principal Brett Warren said. And while the students, of course, do a great job, Warren said, much of the credit is to be given to Sheppard for not only the great classroom instruction students receive but also for the many learning opportunities they are given outside the classroom.
Each year in the spring, Sheppard takes a group of students to the State German Convention in Covington, where more often than not, Warren said, they sweep up many of the main awards. Sheppard said his students have won in numerous areas at the convention, including a 5-year stint of winning the biggest competition there, the skit competition. Students must write, produce, and direct their own German skit on a given topic, he said.
Beasley said Sheppard’s students are often taught to produce music videos, which is one example of their winning skits and one project that the new technology will be used to develop further.
“They don’t just use a regular song and translate it,” she said. “They take a popular beat and come up with all new words in German.”
“Working with the kids at the state convention is really special,” said Sheppard.
They get to practice the German they are learning in the classroom, he said, and take responsibility for their own projects and accomplishments there.
“When the final awards are announced at the end of the convention, the skit competition is the last and biggest prize. You can hardly imagine the excitement when my students find out they have won,” he said.
Sheppard originally had plans to obtain a minor in German during his college years, but eventually picked up enough hours to have a second degree in German. He has an M.Ed. in German from Georgia Southern University, and studied twice in Erlangen, Germany through summer programs.
As coordinator of the school’s German American Partnership Program, Sheppard enables some of his students to also experience Germany first-hand. The program partners the school with a school from Germany, Warren said, and they exchange information and knowledge via the internet. Some of his students and their families also host exchange students who visit for three weeks from Freiburg, Germany, Sheppard said. Sheppard and his students then travel to stay with them and their families during the summer.
“It is so rewarding to see them go through this process,” Sheppard said, “both as hosts and as guest students abroad.”
Sheppard has been named Screven County’s Teacher of the Year. He has twice been honored as Georgia’s German Teacher of the Year by the American Association for Teachers of German, and he currently serves on the Executive Council for the association nationally.
The fruit of his labor can be seen also in the successes of his students, as he has been named STAR teacher at SCHS by STAR students who received this honor by earning the highest SAT scores in the school.
Sheppard said he has had a number of students to qualify for the Governor’s Honors Program in Germany, where he has also taught twice. He has had two students who were named Georgia German students of the year, and therefore won expense-paid trips to Germany, and two other students have won similar prizes on a national level.
“Never do I see him just standing there lecturing,” Beasley said. “He allows for student-led and interactive learning.”
Some of Sheppard’s students have gone on to complete degrees in German, work for German companies, and at least one former student now teaches German in the state, he said.
When you teach some o f the same young people for four years, Sheppard said that you get the reward of watching them grow and mature.
“I have taught so many outstanding young scholars during my time at SCHS,” he said, “and I love to hear about their successes in life beyond these hallways.”
“In many ways, I learn as much from them as they learn from me,” he said.