Qatar Foundation International (QFI) has awarded $20,000 to Virginia’s Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) to support Harrisonburg’s new Arabic language program with instructional materials and curriculum development during the 2017-18 school year. In launching the Arabic program, Harrisonburg City Public Schools will instruct first-time Arabic learners as well as heritage Arabic learners. In addition to the grant, QFI provides teacher professional development opportunities from QFI’s Arabic Summer Institute to regional teacher councils that provide important networking and peer-to-peer engagement. Currently, QFI supports 25 schools in 11 states and Washington D.C., reaching over 2500 students.
In the recent American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) Commission on Language Learning report, studying a second language is cited for delivering several important benefits such as improved cognition, empathy development, and enhanced communication skills. In the U.S., there is increased demand for multilingual job candidates.. In particular, there is a distinct demand for what the U.S. State Department considers the fourteen critical languages, one of which is Arabic.
In recent years, the City of Harrisonburg has become an example of ethnic and linguistic diversity. According to the website Data USA, approximately 23.8% of Harrisonburg City residents speak a language other than English, which is higher than the national average by over 2%,and Arabic is the fifth most spoken language. Students in Harrisonburg City Public Schools speak 55 different languages, with ten percent of the English Learner (EL) students speaking Arabic. By providing for these language learners in addition to first-time Arabic learners, HCPS has the opportunity to support heritage speakers in developing high levels of literacy that will lead to advanced career opportunities later in life.
“Through this grant, QFI is creating opportunities for our students to become more globally aware and to be successful in whatever endeavors they choose in life,” notes HCPS Director of World Languages Jeremy Aldrich, Partnering with QFI not only benefits us financially by providing materials, but also creates a network of relationships that will benefit our teachers and students.”
“Arabic is an opportunity to bridge communities, and that is what excites us most about the partnership with Harrisonburg City Schools,” says QFI Executive Director Maggie Mitchell Salem. “Not only do the students and teachers benefit, in November, school leaders and administrators from across the U.S. including Mr. Aldrich are participating in the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, Qatar. Learning from others’ experiences integrating Arabic along with other critical world languages provides long-term benefit to learners and educators alike. Through this grant, and through the professional development provided, we hope to benefit all three groups of individuals that are the backbone of Arabic language programs at HCPS,” said Maggie Mitchell Salem, QFI’s Executive Director.