Schools Get Funds for Language Instruction
Thursday, September 21, 2006
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced yesterday that Fairfax County schools will receive more than $188,000 to expand Arabic and Chinese classes, part of a federal effort to increase the number of Americans who speak languages key to the global economy and international relations.
Fairfax officials plan to use much of the grant to develop an Arabic class accessible to students countywide through computer or television monitors. It is one of 131 grants, totaling $22 million, to be distributed in coming weeks as part of President Bush's National Security Language Initiative.
Spellings announced the $188,511 grant during a visit to Annandale High School, one of three Fairfax schools that offer Arabic. She told students in an advanced Arabic class that they are among the less than 1 percent of high school students studying languages deemed critical, including Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Urdu.
" Assalamu alaikum, everybody," she told the students, a greeting that translates to "peace be upon you." "You all are pioneers. I am so glad you all are learning these languages because these are the new marketplaces, the new economies."
Two other Washington area school systems also are benefiting from the federal initiative. Officials said Montgomery County schools will receive $175,000 and D.C. schools $174,583, both continuations of earlier grants.
In recent years, schools across the country have increased foreign language offerings, partly in response to a call from government and business leaders who are looking for more bilingual workers.
Fairfax County is pushing a plan to offer foreign language classes in every elementary school, and the school board recently set a goal of having each graduate able to communicate in two languages. In Maryland, more than a third of the state's public school systems this year are offering Mandarin -- more than twice the number that had the classes last year.
Paula Patrick, Fairfax schools foreign language coordinator, said about $100,000 of the grant will be used to create a virtual Arabic class for students in schools that otherwise aren't able to offer the language. This year the school system started a virtual Chinese class, which has drawn about 30 students from around Virginia.
At Annandale High, Spellings sat with the students as they discussed a prominent Muslim scholar and sang a song, all in Arabic. She told them that she's studying Arabic, too, but that their skills are more advanced.
"I know how difficult it is and how important it is," Spellings told them. "It says . . . 'We're interested in you, we want to learn about your culture.' It's not important only for the spread of knowledge but the spread of world peace."
Chase Briggs, 16, a junior, was born in Winchester and speaks English at home. He's taking Arabic for a third year because he has dreamed of a law enforcement career since he was in middle school.
"I figured with the war over in Iraq . . . Arabic would be good to take," he said.
Briggs said he also has been fascinated learning about other parts of the world and other cultures. "It gives me a better understanding of Muslim beliefs," he said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.