Frankfurt, Germany

A Scholarship for the Entire Family

Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft

June 21, 2011

A scholarship for greater immigrant success at school becomes a passport into mainstream society for the whole family

For Dr. Roland Kaehlbrandt, chair of Frankfurt’s Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft,  ‘creating a culture of respect and recognition’ is key to helping immigrant students achieve their academic potential.  At the Stiftung this means spending less time asking newcomers to ‘integrate’, and more time spent inviting them inside.

Dr. Kaehlbrandt‘s work with immigrant children in Germany’s  5th largest city has taught him that that many of the institutions  we take for granted can present formidable cultural barriers for those ‘outside’ the system.   In the school system, for example, children can experience these barriers both inside and outside the classroom.

So to help kids in the classroom, the Stiftung decided to look outside Germany’s highly structured educational system to the parents outside the classroom door.

In the Beginning

The German school system officially begins in grade one, at the mythical ‘age of reason.’  At this age, the average six year old may have attended kindergarten, but many have not.  In Germany today, an increasing number of children entering school are also speaking German for the first time.  Approximately 50% of Frankfurt students (and 70% of children under the age of three) come from families with a migration background.

In Grade 5 (age 10),  students change schools again and are streamed into one of a five different kinds of secondary schools. This time the choice of school and type of program will structure the balance of the student’s schooling and influence the range of options available post-high school.  For children whose second language is German, the transition can be difficult especially if parents do not understand how the educational system works.

In 2007, the Frankfurt foundation, Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft, received a call for help from the director of a local school. How do you help immigrant children and their families get through this important step within the education system?

A Scholarship with a Twist

Since the Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft was already known for the scholarships it gave out, the answer seemed obvious. This time, however, the Stiftung looked beyond the envelope to a more structured form of support that opened doors  for student success by engaging his or her entire family –the result is the Diesterweg Scholarship, named in in honour of the early 19th c. educational reformer, Adolph Diesterweg.

“So we said we are going to make a family scholarship where every member of the family will be a member of the scholarship, will get a certificate and be a part of a whole program,” says Dr. Kaehlbrandt. “They will get strength and pride of being part of the community.”

Started in 2008, the Diesterweg-Stipendium is a two-year preparatory program that runs through grades 4 and 5. Fourth grade teachers recommend students and their families to participate with an emphasis on those who have a high potential for academic success but may need additional support due to lack of German fluency or parental understanding of the school system.

The first group of scholarship recipients included 22 students in 21 families from across the city.The Stipendium includes extra classes in German and other academic subjects and money for educational materials. However, to create a continuum of support between the classroom and the home for immigrant students, the program also offers field trips for the entire family and support for parents at parent-teacher meetings at school. Parents even have their own classes – the ‘parent academies’ – where the intricacies of the German education system are discussed among other topics.

During the summer holidays between grades four and five, the students also participate in DeutscheSommer, a three-week summer school focused on German language training. Children come from a variety of backgrounds such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Ethiopia, Bosnia, and Lithuania.

The project also receives support from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, Integration and Europe (Hesse), the Department for Education and Women (Frankfurt), the Office for Multicultural Affairs and the Foundation/Association for German Sciences.

Symbols of Integration

While the Diesterweg Scholarship’s primary emphasis is on the educational success of the children enrolled in the program, its organizers are clear that improving the opportunities for integration into German society for the families involved is equally essential.

“The main problem of these families is the lack of access to the rich offerings that we have in a city like Frankfurt,” says Dr. Kaehlbrandt.

Family field trips include visits to the public library or the state legislature as part of the syllabus.

Building pride and belonging has become an important part of the project. The foundation holds a formal ceremony at the start of the program for the families, which includes guests of honour from the city and state governments. At the end of the two years, all participants receive an official certificate to celebrate the completion of the Diesterweg Scholarship.

“To a 36-year-old Afghan mother coming from Pakistan who has received a certificate,” says Dr. Kaehlbrandt, “[it says to her] that she is a scholar of a private foundation as a citizen of the city of Frankfurt.”

“We want them to be citizens of our city. We want them to become citizens of this democratic republic.”


Not only were students from the first round  able to successfully make the transition to secondary school,  the Diesterweg Scholarship students participate with enthusiasm and gain self-confidence. The European Forum for Migration Studies observed that that children in the Scholarship program were able to attend and feel comfortable in ‘higher’ level secondary schools while parents gained a better understanding of the school system and had more confidence interacting with teachers.

Parents also reported a greater connection to the community.  On one field trip to the Hesse [state] legislature, a father from Eritrea said: “It is only now that I feel I am a Hesse.”

“In moments like this, the successful integration of these families and the immediate impact of the Diesterweg scholarship are most tangible,” says Gisela von Auer, program director. “Almost all families confirmed that they feel better accepted and at home in Germany after the two years scholarship.”

Today, the Diesterweg Scholarship program also receives support from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, Integration and Europe (Hesse), the Department for Education and Women (Frankfurt), the Office for Multicultural Affairs and the Foundation/Association for German Sciences.

Making it Work for You:

  • Do your research if you want to serve the community well.
  • A detailed scan of city neighbourhoods and schools will help you target specific communities and inform the development of the curriculum for both children and adults.
  • Developing trust among all parties involved (parents, pupils, teachers) is essential, especially in the project's early stages. This means
    • close personal contact with the families
    • encouraging cooperation between primary and secondary schools, as well as local institutions (educational, cultural, scientific)
  • Make the program and its activities attractive for the adults in the families to increase their interest and  participation
  • Ensure there is a high level of engagement and professionalism by everybody who is in the project.
  • Don’t wait for perfect conditions. Go ahead!

Themes: Learn

For this Good Idea contact:

Gisela Von Auer, Diesterweg-Stipendium, Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt am Main
Untermainanlage 5
60329 Frankfurt,
Tel: 069 789 889-25