For a second year, Lincoln High School will offer its students a three-week summer total immersion Arabic language and culture program.
The course is paid for by a $100,000 grant from the StarTalk program of the National Security Language Initiative, formed by President George W. Bush in 2006. Its goal is to expand the teaching of strategically important world languages that are not widely taught in this country. It's thought students who can speak and write world languages will be able to use those marketable skills after they graduate.
Last year, Lincoln's StarTalk program had 50 students enrolled; this year enrollment should double. The free program for ninth- through 12th-graders will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 4 to 22 at the school. Individual classes should have 20 students or fewer, and students will receive one semester's worth of credit.
Mary Stimmel, chairwoman of the world languages department at Lincoln, wrote and submitted the grant application. She said last year, the money paid for computers and text books. This year, because they have those teaching materials, organizers can use the money to pay for two more instructors and two more associates.
The course is demanding, Stimmel said.
"They still get the feel of (summer) break, but it's not a break," she said. "It's intense. The intensity is like living in a foreign country for three weeks and not hearing English. You can immerse yourself when you hear, speak, see and write one language. You forget you're translating and you just speak and write. It's the absolutely best way to teach."
The classes last year were taught by several community members and teachers whose native language is Arabic.
Representatives of StarTalk reviewed Lincoln's program last year and gave it high marks, Stimmel said. The StarTalk people observed classes and met with all the students and their teachers, she said.
"They saw more language learning than they realized could be done," she said. "We highly, highly impressed them. The quality of the teachers impressed them. They were amazed at the smoothness and flow of the organization and of the students."
Stimmel said the program served to bridge some social barriers among the diverse student body.
"They all came with an interest in learning Arabic," she said. "Because they had a common interest, they just worked together. ... They were collaborating with each other. Kids who had never talked to others became leaders. They were gravitating to ones who needed help.
"As a group of teachers, we're looking back and thinking there's no program you could write to teach that kind of caring, collaboration and acceptance of all social and ethnic backgrounds."
The program's intensive education in Arabic isn't confined to the classroom. Last year, students visited the Blank Park Zoo, where they fed giraffes and rode camels, and they ate at a Lebanese restaurant to learn a little about typical cultural experiences in the Arab world.
Each student produces an electronic portfolio that includes videos, audio recordings, PowerPoint demonstrations and other projects they've made.
Stimmel said she found herself describing the program to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley last summer.
"The kids were interested and they wanted the rigor," she told him. "They can learn, and they like the big challenge of doing something really hard and finding themselves successful."
There still are spaces available in the program. Interested Lincoln students should contact Stimmel soon for information.