A Hamilton Heights elementary school has become the first ever in New York City to require its students to study Arabic, in what it claims is an attempt to bolster international opportunities for children.
Starting next semester all students from second through to fifth grade at PS 368 in Hamilton Heights will have to study the language. The reason behind the decision appears to be the school's determination to earn a prestigious International Baccalaureate standing, according to The New York Post.
"(The Parents Association) were very supportive," said Angela Jackson, CEO of the Global Language Project, which is backing the initiative, according to The New York Post. The non-profit Qatar Foundation International, which describes itself as "a U.S.-based affiliate of Qatar Foundation (QF) dedicated to advancing QF's mission and Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser's vision of connecting cultures and advancing global citizenship through education," is also helping bring the project ahead.
"I think it's controversial to not bring Arabic to a city that embraces the world. How do you leave one language out?" asked Mitchell Salem, executive director of QF, according to DNA Info.
"Everywhere we go, we make sure the community wants it. We don't want people to be turned off by the Qatar in our name or think we have an agenda."
As to why Principal Nicky Kram Rosen chose Arabic over languages like French or Spanish, Jackson expressed that it was a "critical-need language" that would allow students to work and live anywhere they choose.
"It means they can spin the globe and decide where they want to work and live," Jackson said.
"I feel like the luckiest principal in the world," Kram Rosen added. "We are teaching them an important language for the future but exposing them to languages spoken in their own community."
Some of the students who have already started learning the language in a pilot program have expressed their eagerness to continue their studies.
"I like Arabic class. I like the words we learn. I thought they sounded funny at first, now I think they sound cool," said Nayanti Brown, a seven-year-old second-grader. "I teach my little sister the words I learn.''
"When I gave my mom the [permission slip] to sign, she was shocked. [Now] she's happy I'm in the class," Nayanti added.
"Soon, Arabic will be a global language like French and Spanish. These kids are like sponges. It's amazing to see their progress,'' said the pilot program teacher, Mohamed Mamdouh.
The Arabic requirement comes into effect next semester, and all 200 students at PS368 will have to learn the language twice a week for 45 minutes – as much time as the school dedicates to science and music courses. No student is exempt from the study – administrators have said they would deal with those who object on a case-by-case basis.
Arabic is the language of over 340 million people around the world, with the majority living in North Africa and the Middle East, and the vast majority belonging to the Muslim religion.
According to the Arab American Institute, the Arab ancestry population of New York State is close to 150,000 people – the third largest in the United States behind Michigan and California.