HOUSTON – About 130 Houston student will attend a new Arabic immersion school next year, where they will learn to speak Arabic as they learn “to be truly global citizens.”
“With kids who learn Arabic, as a parent you’re going to set them up for success, as a teacher you’re going to challenge them to do the best they can, but that skill of learning Arabic and being fluent in it really can be life-changing for a Houston kid,” Kate Adams, the principal of Houston Independent School District’s Arabic Immersion Magnet School, told Houston Public Media.
“In addition to the students being fully functionally bilingual in Arabic and English, the bigger goal for me is that I want our students to be truly global citizens,” she said. “And so that doesn’t just mean language fluency or cultural fluency. It’s kind of how you look at the world and how you interact with the world.”
Click 2 Houston reports Arabic is the second most common foreign language spoken by Houston students, presumably behind Spanish. The school is scheduled to launch next year with two pre-kindergarten classes focused on Modern Standard Arabic. Officials plan to add a new grade level each year until those students reach fifth grade.
“Houston is one of the world’s leading energy capitals and it has strong economic ties to the Middle East,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said in a statement. “Those factors combine to create a significant demand in our city for Arabic language fluency – and we want to meet that demand.”
Amy Crouser told HPM she applied for one of the high demand slot at the Arabic immersion school and is thrilled her son was accepted. There were three applications for students for every one of the 130 spots for year one.
Crouser said her family has no ties to the Middle East, but picked the school over the district’s Spanish or Chinese immersion programs because it’s something unique.
“And the fact that we speak English in our household, and that’s it, I just don’t have the opportunity to teach that to him,” she said. “I have no one to speak another language to him where he can be immersed and truly learn as a native speaker.”
Emran El-Badawi heads the Arab Studies Department at the University of Houston, and serves on the board of the new school. He told HPM the school will have to contend with Arab stereotypes, but believes it will ultimately benefit the region.
“In some cases you’re teaching and sometimes you’re also un-teaching,” he said. “This is the city to do this. This is the city to break those stereotypes and start building bridges.”
Crouser read out loud one of the negative comments about the school she found online: “Let’s see, ‘Gee, what could possibly go wrong with this scenario? Why not just pack the kids up and send them off to an ISIS training camps? This is a very sad idea.’”
“They’re not even based on facts. It’s totally fear-ridden comments. I mean, the thing is that Arabic does not equal Islam and Islam does not equal terrorism, so to say that is bigoted and it’s bullying in my book,” she said.
The Houston Chronicle reports HUISD is focusing a lot on dual-language instruction, going from 14 to 55 campuses that offer two languages in just the last three years.
“From the district’s standpoint, it’s a plus for any student to speak two languages. Officials describe bilingual students as having increased vocabulary, being more competitive academically and better prepared for the job market,” the Chronicle reports.
“Those students … in the dual language program do exceed the academic achievement of other students,” said Altagracia Guerrero, assistant superintendent of the district’s multilingual department, told the Chronicle. “So we want to be able to provide that opportunity for more students.”