Lincoln High School will offer introductory Arabic to nearly 50 students this fall, making it the only public high school in the state -- and one of a handful on the West Coast -- to teach the language.
The Portland School Board this week approved a $70,000 grant from Qatar Foundation International, a Washington, D.C., group that promotes cross-cultural understanding through education. The money is enough to pay a full-time teacher for one year and kick-start development of a four-year curriculum. Denise Dodson, who runs the group's West Coast programs, expects the grant to be renewed.
The foundation chose Lincoln because of its international studies program and long interest in Arabic. The school has offered after-school Arabic classes for more than a decade with help from Portland State University's Middle East Studies Center. The two are now working to expand joint cultural events and lectures.
"There seems to be a kind of increased awareness that more Arabic speakers are needed," said Jean Campbell, the center's associate director, "and students are choosing to have that as an option."
With the new program, Lincoln will join a growing number of U.S. schools that offer Arabic.
"Not very many years ago, only 10 states in the country had any high school-level Arabic program," said Dodson, whose foundation is also paying for two East Coast programs. Today, just under 100 public schools in 22 states offer Arabic, according to data from the National Capital Language Resource Center, a university-run think tank.
Instruction in languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Russian has been on the rise in K-12 classrooms since the George W. Bush administration in 2006 deemed the development of U.S. speakers "critical" to national security. The resulting federal funding has paid for programs that include the Portland School District's K-12 Mandarin Chinese immersion program. The program, launched in 2005, is the nation's first and will serve as a model.
This week, U.S. Reps. Judy Chu of California and Paul Tonko of New York announced plans to introduce a bill that would tag $400 million to teach foreign languages in K-12 schools to give students a competitive edge.
"Arabic is a major world language, and the regions of the world where it's spoken are a very important part of our future in a global society," said Marvin Kaiser, dean of Portland State'sCollege of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which includes the Middle East center.
This spring, Kaiser visited Qatar as part of a state delegation that discussed food security, renewable-energy options and green building initiatives with Qatari leaders. In a 2008 interviewwith The Oregonian, the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Joseph LeBaron, a PSU alumnus, said the oil-rich Middle East nation plans to spend billions on its energy sector in coming years, creating opportunities for Northwest businesses.
Qatar also is investing heavily in education. Qatar Foundation International is an offshoot of theQatar Foundation, which has spent 15 years building a complex of U.S. satellite campuses outside the capital, Doha, to attract global talent.
U.S. students in the foundation's East Coast programs also have had the opportunity to travel to Qatar.
"That really makes such a difference," Campbell said. "They'll be more likely to stay involved and motivated and reach a high level of language skill."
Lincoln, meanwhile, has chosen a teacher -- Portlander Sarah Standish, who is teaching high-schoolers this summer through an intensive National Security Agency Arabic program -- for its new classes, though the hiring hasn't been finalized. Standish will teach three introductory classes while developing and refining Lincoln's curriculum so it can offer an International Baccalaureate Arabic class in four years.