Father/daughter team makes a difference for transplanted student

Holly Lane student Alex Kuenkel, whose family recently moved to Westlake from Germany, is working with his teacher Lisa Forshey's father, Hank Hanisch, to learn English and acclimate to American culture.

When Holly Lane Elementary School first-grade teacher Lisa Forshey took German foreign language classes at Westlake High School as a teen, she never imagined she’d rely on those skills to communicate with a transplanted student in her own classroom.

Alex Kuenkel showed up in Forshey’s class in early February after moving to the area from Germany with his parents, Sebastian Griebe and Anja Kuenkel. Alex speaks no English and was lost in a new school and a new country – until Forshey stepped in.

“We were very surprised about his teacher having German roots and even speaking German,” said Griebe, Alex’s father. “The extra attention was very pleasing for us, and Alex likes working with Hans a lot.”

Hans is Forshey’s father, Hans “Hank” Hanisch, a retired insurance appraiser who was born in Germany and speaks fluent German. Hanisch has been a Westlake resident for 42 years. He came to the community from Germany in 1953 at age 13.

“He enjoys working with Alex because he remembers what it was like when he moved to the United States and did not speak the language,” Forshey said. “He worked with some wonderful adults and teachers who helped him back then, and he enjoys being able to pay it forward and help Alex now.”

Hanisch comes into Forshey’s classroom twice a week to help translate for Alex and provide a boost of confidence to the young boy. Forshey said she tries to speak as much German as she can, and some of her first-graders have picked up on the language.

“They know how to count to 10; they know the days of the week, colors and some basic phrases,” Forshey said. “They have been very supportive of and helpful to our new friend. We’re all learning together. I even had one mom tell me that her 2-year-old has picked up the German word for ‘no’ from her first grader.”

Griebe said it’s been a challenge for Alex, being away from his friends and having a language barrier. But he learns new words every day and is acclimating to American culture.

“Alex enjoys very much going to school,” Griebe said. “Everybody is nice to him and very supportive. He likes riding the yellow school bus and the fact that he can buy ice cream at the cafeteria.”

Griebe said he and his family felt welcome when they toured Holly Lane for the first time.

“While talking with the principal and the other teachers, we learned a lot about the possibilities and opportunities,” Griebe said. “We had a good feeling about the atmosphere and felt Alex is going to be in good hands, which, of course, is a relief for us."

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Volume 9, Issue 6, Posted 10:20 AM, 03.21.2017