HISD proposes new Arabic Language Immersion Magnet to meet needs of culturally diverse city

Poised to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive global economy and growing Arab-American population, the Houston Independent School District is proposing the creation of its first-ever Arabic Language Immersion Magnet School.

If approved by the HISD Board of Education, the proposed dual language immersion school would open its doors in the fall of 2015, with two pre-kindergarten and two kindergarten classes. A new grade level would be added each year as the students progress through the fifth grade.

Trustees are scheduled to vote on the proposal next week during their regular monthly board meeting at 5 p.m. on Nov. 13 in the Board Auditorium of the Hattie Mae White Educational Service Center, 4400 W. 18th Street.

“Houston is one of the world’s leading energy capitals, and it has strong economic ties to the Middle East,” said HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier. “Those factors combine to create a significant demand in our city for Arabic language fluency — and we want to meet that demand.”

In HISD, Arabic is the second-most common foreign language spoken at home. A cross-functional team tasked with studying the district’s language data determined the school would focus on Modern Standard Arabic.

Research shows that students who learn new languages reap long-term academic and social benefits. Studying a foreign language improves students’ analytical skills and enhances their memory and creativity. It also helps students gain a more profound understanding of their own culture and develop a more positive attitude toward other cultures. Speaking more than one language also make students more valuable in the workforce.

The Arabic Language Immersion Magnet School would be located at 812 W. 28th Street, a site that formerly housed Holden Elementary School and the Energy Institute High School. Some renovation work — such as upgrades to lighting, technology, restrooms and the heating and cooling system — would be required.

HISD has a track record for establishing highly successful dual language immersion schools. In addition to two full-campus Spanish language schools, the district also offers a Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School, which opened at full capacity in 2012. By its second year, it had four applicants for every available spot.

10 thoughts on “HISD proposes new Arabic Language Immersion Magnet to meet needs of culturally diverse city

  1. Rosa Lina

    I would like to respond to this proposal. Arabic is not a common language spoken in America or needed to that extent. It seems we should keep our focus on languages that are common around the world and that our children need to learn in order to have greater opportunity.

    Next, it seems we should not promote a language spoken by individuals from a country that promotes religious wars, Syria laws, a foreign God, and hate/death for anyone that does not believe as they do, principally Americans.

    1. Giovanni Youssef

      I would like to respond to your comment. Arabic is currently the fastest growing foreign language being taught at a higher education level, so it would only make sense to offer classes in it at lower grades as well. This makes more sense when you look at the pure statistics of the issue. The last recorded statistics from the 2010 US census show that there are 845,000 Arabic speakers in America, placing it just under Russian, and above Italian. Keep in mind this was four years ago, many estimates say that the number has risen to over a million since. The number of Arab Americans in 2010, once again taken from the US census, was 1,697,570. Not only that, but the number of Arab Americans is rapidly growing, primarily in Texas which has the second fastest growing rate of Arab Americans in the country. You mentioned that Arabic is not a common language spoken around the world, and, quite frankly, you’re wrong. There are 26 countries in the world that have Arabic as their official language, and that’s not counting the countries in which Arabic is a secondary language. Most of these countries are the heads of the oil market, and our fuel supply as well as our gas prices rely heavily on them. Seeing as Houston is a leader in the American oil industry you would think that would mean something to you. As for your out of place and uninformed comment about Arab culture: first of all, Sharia laws, not Syria laws as Mr. Eldin pointed out, do not dictate what you purport them too, second Islam does not preach about a foreign God, it is the same God that is found in the other Abrahamic faiths, and your basing of “knowledge” on the observation of radical groups does not reflect on an entire culture. If anything your demonstration of a lack of knowledge when it comes to Arab culture only further demonstrates the need for a school such as the one being proposed. I would also like to inform you that, once again according the US census, the majority of Arab Americans are Catholic, primarily Maronite Catholic, so your uninformed argument has even less validity. So to recap, Arabic is a common language spoken in both America and the world in general, Arabic is spoken in a variety of different countries not just one (as your statement implies), and by many individuals from many backgrounds who can not be grouped into your misinformed interpretation of an entire culture. Your interpretation of Islam is not founded on facts, and your interpretation of the Arab culture is invalid and a gross generalization.

  2. Yusef Eldin

    To think that religion, or even the language itself, Arabic, is the cause of which you have listed is completly ignorant, bigoted, and quite frankly, stupid. Neither language nor religion share any correlation between your list. The fact that you mistook Sharia Law with what you call “Syrian Law” shows how little you known about this subject. My friend, you would struggle with pouring water out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.

    1. Kathryn

      It’s wonderful to see well-informed replies justifying the one ill-informed comment left above.

      Coming from your “girl next door” who grew up in small town America coming from a family only knowing English, learning Arabic, traveling to Jordan, and discovering the beauty of the Arabic culture was probably the single greatest thing I could have done for myself. I finally understand the spirit of humanity and continue to educate and submerge myself in various cultures and studying my sixth language now.

      For cultural, humane, political, and economic reasons that are bountiful- it would be great progression for HISD to expand into Arabic as they have catered for their students, already, Mandarin and Spanish among other languages.

  3. Houston Since 1854

    I truely believe that learning a new language is wonderful. It show courtesy when visiting a foreign country to at least attempt to communicate with someone in their language. Currently, the Spanish bilingual program in HISD is a success in my opinion. I think that students of direct Hispanic heritage can benefit later on down the road when they learn concepts of math and lang arts in Spainish. HOWEVER, this should be available for all students not only reserved for Arabic and Hispanic students. This is not equal opportunity for children by giving a benefit of learning a foreign language up to 5th grade and not to American, European heritage.

  4. Nora

    Equal opportunity would be given to any child to participate in the program, regardless of heritage. The Mandarin Immersion school and the Spanish immersion schools have students who are not from these cultures. There are many families from “American, European” heritage as well as from other cultures who have chosen this route for their children’s education. Visit the website of the Mandarin Immersion school and you will see a diverse student body, not all Chinese. Yes, many of the student’s will be of Arabic heritage, but I assure you there will be people from other cultures who would be interested to have their children learn this language.

    I think it is a great initiative. My only issue is with the location. I know there has been a huge influx in the Arab population in Houston, but the location is a significant distance from where the majority of these people reside. This may deter people from enrolling their children in my opinion….

    1. Houston Since 1854

      Nora, this is not the norm. American born students from other ethnicities besides hispanic have to apply to the magnet school program and wait for admission. However, a student born in America or latin America of hispanic heritage automatically has access to education in a foreign language from pre-k to 5th grade. There is no waiting list for them. All are entered into the bilingual program if they do not know English. Many of them are children of parents who did not enter the country on a legal work visa. However, they are at an advantage. They have learned 2 languages whereas the other students only know 1. This is not equal.

  5. Houston Since 1854

    I would like to see opportunities given to all students as far as a dual language program goes. What I meant by the above is that I feel that it is unfortunate that most students in a Spainish bilingual program are of children of parents who came to this country from latin American countries. They learn to read, write, and speak in Spainish but students who are of other ethnicities are not learning Spainish from the time they are in pre-k to 5th grade. So, the hispanic students are at an advantage over other students whose parents have paid taxes here for generations and/or who have entered the country legally to work. When I applied for a teaching position most opening were for bilingual teachers in Spanish. If I only knew English I would have not found work. This is the same case in other field of employment. Due to the fact that so many families have arrived here form latin American countries, there is now a need speak and relate to these people in their language to communicate. Therefore, you must know that language to find a job. If not, you will find work. This is not “equal opportunity” to me. Why do people who have had family arrive in Texas from say 1830-2000, and who pay taxes, serve in the military, and do everything they can to be a good citizen, not have the same access to language aquisition as those who just got here 3 months ago? All students should be able to learn a foreign language from pre-k -12, and even more so those whose families helped settle and form this state.

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