A teacher from Cairo, Egypt, will have a home in Missoula's schools this coming year, helping launch the new Arabic culture and language program while learning the ways of American education himself.
Missoula County Public Schools recently won a grant from the U.S. State Department to host the teacher as part of the Teachers of Critical Languages Program.
In August, Wael Salah Elkateeb will arrive in Missoula and take up academic residence at Hellgate High School.
His arrival coincides with the launch of MCPS' Arabic classes at Hellgate and Sentinel, a language and culture curriculum the district has established with the University of Montana.
Because of State Department rules, the district has had no direct contact with Elkateeb, who teaches at a language school in Cairo.
"I know his name and I have a picture of him," said Hellgate Spanish teacher Michal Malouf, who will fly to Washington, D.C., in early August to finally meet him. "So you meet him first as a human being, and then you start talking about the exchange and what he's interested in learning."
She also knows that Elkateeb is in his mid-30s, and will leave behind his wife and two small children for a year to participate in the program.
Malouf and Elkateeb will arrive in Missoula on Aug. 7.
"Once he arrives, we definitely want to make him feel extraordinarily welcome," said Malouf.
Elkateeb's specific duties as an instructor have yet to be determined, as the district continues to establish the curriculum of the new Arabic classes.
His yearlong stay is entirely funded by the State Department.
MCPS has long tried to establish Arabic studies to expand its language offerings, which now also include Mandarin Chinese.
Last year, the district and UM secured a grant of $763,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to introduce Arabic classes, which will take place – at least in the first year – at Hellgate and Sentinel. The main instructor for those courses is Fadi Ehlin, who is originally from Jordan but has been teaching in New Jersey.
He also arrives in Missoula next month.
The goal is to solidify the program over the five-year life of the grant so that when the money runs out, Arabic studies will be a permanent program at MCPS, said Malouf.
"It's something new," she said. "I think it will be good for our students and our teachers and everyone to learn about the Arabic world."