The Uptown Schnitzeljagd

Fancy a Schnitzeljagd? And no, I’m not talking about a slice of fried pork. Chasse à trésor, búsqueda de tesoros, scavenger venari … they’re all just different translations of the same uber-fun activity that the Mt. Lebanon High School World Languages department organized in conjunction with the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon in Uptown last month.

In case you’re like me, and you’re completely monolingual (even though you took five years of French … Sorry, Madame Versace), the translation is: SCAVENGER HUNT!

Although the original event had to be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, the World Languages department, with German teacher Peg Meyers in the lead, held onto hope that they’d be able to host an activity to get their students away from their computer screens, up from their desks and outside having fun together. When the day came, Friday, May 14, the sun was shining and the day was perfect.

Meyers explaining the scavenger hunt rules before the event on Friday, May 14.

“Finally, an activity that’s not through Zoom!” said Meyers. In a typical year, her German students would have the option to participate in a plethora of immersive learning experiences, from the German Day competition to the nearly-40-year-old exchange program with a school in Düren, Germany. Students of other languages at the high school also normally have similar opportunities.

But we all know the 2020-21 year was anything but normal. “If you boil any subject down to just classroom [activities], you miss a little bit of the magic and wonder that go along with it,” said Meyers. She was determined to find a pandemic-safe activity, so she reached out to Geoff Hurd, president of the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, to see if they had a historical scavenger hunt that she could translate into German.

They did not, but were happy to make one. The historical society provided a 20-question hunt (plus a bonus and tie-breaker question) down Washington Road, starting at Southminster Presbyterian Church and continuing down that side of the road until it intersects with Shady Drive East. There, students were to cross to the east side of the road and continue walking until they hit their final stop—the historical society building, where they would look for the answer to their last question.

Meyers’ colleagues in French, Spanish and Latin decided to join in, helping her to plan for the event. The World Languages department faculty decided to divide participants into socially distant groups of two, to be released from high school Center Court in intervals.

The teachers reached out to local businesses for gift card prizes, including Lebo Subs and Scoops on Beverly. They also set up a photo booth for the kids to enjoy while they waited for their classmates to return, and created goodie bags with candy from France, Italy, Germany and Mexico and swag donated from the Goethe-Institut, the world’s largest German language and culture organization.

Originally there were close to 40 participants, including students who were virtual, but only 25 were available after the reschedule. This meant that there were even more spoils to be divided among the students at the end of the hunt—no one would leave empty-handed.

The World Language department faculty paused to enjoy the photo booth, while waiting for the students to return from the scavenger hunt.

The Day of The Hunt

“We’re looking for a gargoyle!” a student shouted at me, as he and his teammate sprinted by on the 650 block of Washington Road. I wasn’t about to run after them to get their names and ruin their concentration. Spoiling their fun was not in keeping with the spirit of the event, anyway.

The students were scattered in small groups throughout Uptown—you could spot them by the bright pink “Lebo Scavenger Hunt” T-shirts they wore. Some were talking with the teachers posted around town, who were giving out stickers for bonus points. Others were taking selfies in front of specific landmarks—a requirement to receive full credit and top prizes.

Because the World Languages department is hoping to replicate the event, perhaps using similar questions, in future years, I’m not going to give a details on the scavenger hunt stops. But some stops required students to look for architectural details, informational plaques, and a few took students inside buildings, where they had to look around for answers.

“The one where we had to go into the municipal building was hard! It took us a while to find that,” said sophomore French student Katie Girod.

Social studies teacher and historical society volunteer Pete DiNardo was stationed inside the historical society, to keep an eye on the kids and help them talk through questions when they got stumped. “It’s great for us at the historical society to be engaged with kids, even in a small way,” he said. As I was leaving, he welcomed a group of kids who were looking for the answer to their final question, which related to one of the society’s exhibits.

“We’re hearing from our helpers on Washington Road that the kids are having fun, but the questions are hard,” said Meyers, as we waited, a bit longer than everyone had expected, for the first groups to arrive back at the school. But even when they started showing up, the teachers still had to log their time and tally their answers to determine the winners

Taking top prizes were:

Gold: Kenzie Hughes and Naomi Lyon (German Team)

Silver: Sam Noll and Katie Girod (French Team)

Bronze: Dimitry Yergiyev and Benson Zheng (Spanish Team)

Blue: Logan Kuhlman (Latin) and Elliott Whiteside (German)

As the students decompressed, enjoying the photo booth and chatting among themselves after returning from the hunt, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

“I’m tired, but this was fun,” said sophomore French student Sarah Frew. “Because the whole year, you know, we had meetings, but they were mostly on Zoom. And it was fine, but it was a little boring, you know? So this really spices things up. It was so fun.”