Responding to pressures from parents and a federal government call to better understand the Arab world, Consolidated High School District 230 in southwest Cook County is considering adding Arabic language courses at its high schools.
A district committee plans Thursday evening to make a recommendation to the school board as part of a broader language curriculum review, Assistant Supt. Brenda Reynolds said.
"We're taking a look at our whole language program," Reynolds said. "Where is it strong? Where is it weak? What do we need to do to meet the needs of the kids?"
Whether to offer Arabic courses at Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew High Schools factors into those questions, Reynolds said.
Arabic instruction has increased inside classrooms across the country -- including at three schools in Chicago -- since the Bush administration in 2006 launched a National Security Language Initiative that funds courses in several "critical" languages. Mandarin and Hindi are among those included.
But in a suburban area that has seen a backlash to an increasing Arab presence, efforts to build a program have been unsuccessful, said Zaher Sahloul, president of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview.
Recently, Oak Lawn Community High School rejected a proposal for Arabic instruction, citing more pressing needs to improve its math and science programs.
That decision has fueled the push for Arabic inside District 230, Sahloul said. Some 150 students have signed a petition in support of adding the language.
"Some of these schools have 15 or 20 percent of their students who are of Arabic origin," said Sahloul, who argued that Arabic is becoming more necessary for international trade. "Yet, in spite of that, you have this reluctance to introduce it.."
Reynolds said her committee has spent eight months reviewing whether enough students would benefit from courses in Arabic and other languages being considered.
"If we were gonna go by demographics and that would be the determining factor in what language we wanted to add, it wouldn't be Arabic," she said, adding demographics play a small role. "It would be Polish."
Antonio Olivo, Chicago Breaking News Center