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School district expands offerings, brings in French classes

Peter Sunnarborg is the new French teacher at Albert Lea High School. - Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

Peter Sunnarborg is the new French teacher at Albert Lea High School. – Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

A Minnesota native with more than a decade of experience teaching French is looking to jumpstart the new French language program at Albert Lea High School.

Peter Sunnarborg, 40, a Chisholm native, was previously a French teacher for 11 years at Dominguez High School in Compton, California, before arriving in Albert Lea for the 2015-16 school year.

Sunnarborg teaches five French I classes and supervises study hall and preparation periods.

He said his students have accepted his personality.

“I have a strange sense of humor and they seem to be accepting that, which is good,” he said.

In the short term, he wants to expose students to the French language and culture. He hopes to have students be proficient in the French language and competent in the culture after finishing the program.

He said there is a lasting benefit to learning the French language.

“It’s good to offer this as a choice for kids because it can really enrich your life, not only through arts and culture, but with gaining friends and advancing your academic life,” Sunnarborg said.

He said there are similarities between Compton and Albert Lea.

“Kids are kids, whether they are in Compton or Albert Lea,” Sunnarborg said. “There are a lot of different personalities in class and I enjoy that. There’s diversity.”

He said he enjoys the scenery Albert Lea offers.

Sunnarborg was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and received his teaching license at Hamline University. He moved to Los Angeles after student teaching in St. Paul.

He said he grew tired of the traffic and high cost of living in Los Angeles and decided he wanted to move back to his home state. He said the quality of life in Albert Lea was a major factor in his decision.

“I saw the job posting and thought, well, I can do this,” he said. “I was interested with the program, principal and the support I was getting.”

Sunnarborg enjoys cooking and baking bread in his spare time. He also enjoys crossword puzzles, murder mystery television shows and books, reading the news in French and watching French movies.

Now that he is closer to home, Sunnarborg hopes to see his family more and travel.

The district added French language courses this year to give students additional choices in their world language offerings, said Kathy Niebuhr, secondary programs coordinator at Albert Lea Area Schools.

“Looking at what other districts offer in the Big Nine, it seemed appropriate that we offer another language,” Niebuhr said.

Sunnarborg is the district’s lone full-time French teacher. There are also two full-time Spanish teachers and a fourth teacher who teaches both Spanish and French, in addition to eighth-grade courses called celebrate French and celebrate Spanish. The two courses are meant to expose eighth-graders to the languages as well as the cultures of French and Spanish speakers, Niebuhr said.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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