EDMONTON — In a library packed with teachers, dignitaries and family, dozens of Grade 6 students from Glengarry School performed a traditional Arabic song and dance. It’s part of a unique language and culture-based Arabic/English bilingual program offered through Edmonton Public Schools.
“The classroom looks dramatically different than it did 30 years ago,” Edmonton Public School Board Chair Michael Janz said Tuesday, after celebrating a new agreement with the Qatar Foundation International.
The memorandum of understanding between the school district and QFI will promote the teaching and learning of Arabic language and culture. Edmonton Public Schools will have more access to resources, academic material and teacher training. It offers a unique experience for students who want to learn the language, and for newcomers whose first language is Arabic.
The number of English as a Second Language Learners in the Edmonton School District continues to grow.
“The ability to offer resources to help these students be successful is a great source of pride for us,” Janz said.
Grade 11 student at Queen Elizabeth School Mariam Abdelaziz has been able to use the program to better understand her own background. She was born in Montreal, but her parents are from Egypt. Abdelaziz said at home, they speak an Arabic slang, but what she’s learning in the classroom is a more academic Arabic.
“I learned about different countries and different ways of speaking,” Abdelaziz said as she added her classmates who are from Arabic countries are great resources.
“I feel like it will give me many career opportunities.”
For newcomers, it allows them a chance to feel less isolated by a lack of English language skills.
“It makes them a little bit more comfortable to know there’s so many Arabic speaking people,” said Jennifer Kamal, the Arabic teacher at Queen Elizabeth School, “and to know that they can use this course to help them at school rather than struggle.”
Kamal said many students whose first language is Arabic use the course to increase their grades to get into post-secondary school.
Memorandum of understandings usually mark the beginning of a relationship. But that’s not the case here. This one strengthens the relationship that’s been built between the EPSB and QFI over the last year-and-a-half.
Edmonton Public Schools offers the program from elementary through to high school. The district has become a leader in Arabic/English bilingual programs, and is advising schools in the United States that are interested in setting up similar programs.