Before she started studying Arabic, Brittany Whitfield's opinion of the Arab world was shaped by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 10 o'clock news.
After she learned the language -- and immersed herself in the study of Arab culture -- the 15-year-old sophomore at Lindblom Math and Science Academy learned that Arabs are not all terrorists. Far from it.
"I did have a really biased opinion. . . . I had only that mentality that the media was feeding me. . . . The media portrays violence, terrorism and threat," Whitfield said.
"I realized that it may be going on, but it's not the only thing happening over there. They have Arabic Idol and things like that. It's kind of like here, only with a different language."
Now, even more Chicago Public School students will be able to broaden their horizons by studying Arabic, Chinese and Russian.
At a Lindblom news conference attended by Arab mayors here for the U.S. Arab Cities Forum, Mayor Daley announced that the Board of Education was "re-allocating" $1 million to expand a Critical Languages Program he called the largest in the nation.
And that's not all.
Federal grants totaling $240,000 will allow 60 CPS students to intensify their Arabic and Chinese studies this summer at the University of Chicago.
The Chinese and Arabic programs will get even bigger if the feds approve Chicago's new application for a $1.5 million grant.
Already, more than 7,000 Chicago students are studying Chinese. Nearly 300 are learning Arabic, more than 100 of them at Lindblom, including junior Darius Brown.
"I had a much different perception than what I have now. I always saw the bad and negative parts of the Arab world. . . . But after studying the language and learning the diversity of the culture, I have totally realized that they're not that much different than we are," said Brown, 16.