AUGUSTA — The consul general of Germany was in Augusta for two days this week to recognize Cony High School as its latest partner school, one of only 13 in the United States, to join a worldwide program which seeks to encourage students to learn the German language.

Boston-based Ralf Horlemann also welcomed students from Cony and six other schools to a German career day Thursday at Cony, encouraging students to learn German and potentially use their knowledge of the language to attend universities in his home country or work for German technology-based companies in the United States.

Partners in the program are selected, according to Cony German teacher Deborah Backman, for having a combination of a strong German program while also having strong programming in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Cony is one of only two schools in New England chosen for the program by the German government and the Goethe Institut, a German cultural institute with a mission of promoting the German language and culture abroad.

Horlemann, consul general of Germany to New England, said the program seeks to promote learning German in conjunction with STEM education, which he said can lead to careers in technology-based businesses.

“We’re pleased and excited about Cony becoming a partner,” Horlemann said at a reception held Wednesday evening at Lithgow Public Library to welcome him to Augusta. “We feel it is very important to lay a solid foundation of foreign language, preferably German, at the middle and high school levels. Learning German is a very good entry point to start a good and well-paid career. Congratulations to Cony, for having invested so much over the years into its German program. We’re proud of you, and we want to support you as much as we can.”

He said the average salary of Americans working for German companies in the United States is $90,000 a year.

Backman said being a partner in the global network Schools: Partners for the Future brings Cony educational opportunities, including $15,000 a year in grants to the school so students can participate in German-related activities. Each summer Cony can send two students on a full scholarship to a three-week intensive language course in Germany; two students to Portland, Oregon, for a one-week German immersion summer camp; and four students to Denver, Colorado, for a German-language competition. Teachers also see benefits, with Backman able to attend, at no cost, a two-week summer course in Germany, and Backman and Cony science teacher Maggie Wachtl being sent by the program to a STEM seminar in Washington, D.C.

Edward Hastings, chairman of the Augusta Board of Education, said as an engineer he is excited about the concept of merging foreign language and technology, and he is grateful to have Cony partner with the German program.

Mayor David Rollins told Horlemann he hopes the partnership between Germany and Cony ultimately will extend beyond local students learning to speak German.

“We’re glad you’ve come and opened up this door,” Rollins said, before giving Horlemann a city of Augusta hat, a key to the city, and a photograph he took of the downtown Augusta riverfront. “And we certainly want to walk through it. I envision a BMW plant (in Augusta). We’ve got some great land along the river. We can start making door handles and work our way up.”

Local legislators including Sen. Roger Katz and Rep. Donna Doore, and Augusta school and city officials, greeted Horlemann at the reception. Horlemann said the event also marked the 10-year anniversary of the creation of the school partnership program.

“We’re kind of excited about this, it’s not every day we have foreign dignitaries visit like this,” City Manager William Bridgeo said.

The diplomat made time to share some beer with local officials Wednesday evening, offering up some German beer to his American hosts and sampling a Cushnoc Brewing Co. Kresge beer brewed in Augusta.

“It’s delicious, very good,” Horlemann said of the locally brewed beer.

Serving beer at the reception required a vote by city councilors, last month, to set a new policy authorizing Bridgeo to allow the consumption of beer and wine for special occasions in the community room, which is just inside the library’s main entrance.

In addition to the Spaten and Beck’s beer brought by Horlemann, and Augusta’s own Cushnoc beer, refreshments at the reception for Horlemann included Moxie soda and food prepared by staff of the Augusta Civic Center including miniature whoopie pies, pulled pork sandwiches, and cheese and other appetizers.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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