Several students at P.S. 368 in Harlem are spending recess learning Arabic. Next year, all of the school's students in second through fifth grades will start learning the language. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed this report.
Instead of recess, several second-graders at P.S. 368 in Harlem chose to study a new language.
In September, all second through fifth-graders at the school will study Arabic twice a week.
Two non-profit organizations are onboard. The Global Language Project is providing teachers and the Qatar Foundation is paying them.
"We wanted to choose a language that would reflective of some of the community but too would be a language that would really help students in their future career," said Angela Jackson of the Global Language Project.
The school and its partners say there is a need for more Americans to speak Arabic. In fact, in 2001, the State Department labeled Arabic a critical language in light of U.S. security and business interests.
But unlike other "critical languages," such as Mandarin, schools have been slow to offer Arabic. A few city high schools have programs but, when the Khalil Gibran Academy, an Arabic dual language middle school, opened in 2007 in Brooklyn, it was met with protests by conservative groups. The pushback was so extreme that the founding principal was eventually ousted.
P.S. 368 and its partner organizations built support for the program before launching. The parent association approved the plan first and then presented the idea to the rest of the parents. They say there's been no opposition.
"Global Language had the right approach to building the support of the school, of the community," said Maggie Mitchell Salem of the Qatar Foundation.
Many students already speak Spanish at home and English at school. The second-graders say they love learning a third.
And some are already experts.
"Two girls in our class are sisters and they actually speak Arabic," said one of the students. "While they help us learn Arabic, we help them learn English."
Teachers have lofty goals. Besides the language skills, they hope students come to understand the Middle East and Arab culture.