Thursday, Mar. 13
According to Ali Ibrahim, an Arabic teacher for Fauquier County Public School’s Foreign Language Exploratory (FLEX) program, some of his students want to learn the language in order to prepare for a future career in the CIA or FBI.
Ibrahim says that other popular reasons that his students cite is an interest in defense contracting, a desire to join the military and ambassadorship to an Arabic-speaking country.
“Learning Arabic expands students horizons and opens their eyes to another diverse culture,” said Ibrahim. “With all the turmoil and the US interests in the Middle East region, there is a high demand for U.S. citizens who are capable of speaking the language to help bridge the gap between the two cultures.”
Amgad El Shewihy, another FCPS FLEX Arabic teacher, said that not many other school systems in the area provide opportunities for students to learn the language.
“By offering Arabic we are giving school-aged children in Fauquier early exposure to the world's fifth most spoken language,” said Shewihy. “Currently there is a high demand but low supply of Arabic-speakers. By offering Arabic in Fauquier, we are garnering a large interest in this targeted language and culture with native speakers that the U.S. government considers a critical language of strategic importance.”
According to Laura Hoover, the English as a Second Language (ESL) and foreign language instructional supervisor for FCPS, the federal government provides the school division with funding for teaching languages that have a high demand for Americans to learn through a program called, STARTALK.
“STARTALK is a federal grant, and the purpose of it is to promote the teaching and learning of less commonly taught languages,” said Hoover. “There’s a list that the government has identified of the languages that there’s a need for more Americans to speak.”
The STARTALK program began funding FCPS summer foreign language classes in 2009. The program is part of the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI) that former President Bush announced in Jan. 2006. The federal government’s interest in promoting the learning of what it deems critical languages grew after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Arabic and Turkish courses were originally offered exclusively only in the summer for the STARTALK program, but the classes have made their way into FCPS’s FLEX program during the school year, because of their popularity.
Hoover said that FCPS is now also offering Arabic classes to the high school program of studies as a regular course offering for the first time this year in all three high schools.
“The programs are popular, we’ve had great success with them,” said Hoover. “This year we’ve added Russian and Chinese to FLEX, which are also on the STARTALK list, and that is really exciting.”
Hoover believes that opening up foreign language classes to students is a way to open their eyes and minds to other cultures and people in the world that are different from them.
“One of the neat things about learning another language is that you also learn about another culture,” said Hoover. “The student are learning that there are people out there that are different than them and they learn to appreciate that. It’s so great for the kids to appreciate diversity.
The STARTALK program currently has openings in their Arabic and Turkish classes for third and fourth-graders. The classes has a special focus on learning about the farm-to-fork movement, including field trips to farms and gardens.
For more information about the courses offered through FLEX and list of the classes that are still open for enrollment, visit http://www.fcps1.org/flex