In Sarah Standish's Arabic class at Lincoln High School, where students must ask permission to speak English, the class tries to understand the script in front of them.
Standish breaks the silence, saying something in the staccato-meets-guttural sounds of the language.
One student in the class of 10 laughs.
"LOL," Standish writes on the board, giving them a clue. "Al face," she says.
Ah, Facebook, the students realize, responding in Arabic -- yes they comment to friends on "Al face."
The class of juniors started Standish's class three years ago, when the downtown Portland high school became the first public school in the state to offer an Arabic language program.
Now they write in the script -- bubbly, scratchy, or near-calligraphy -- and sing along to Arabic songs. And the grant-funded Arabic program is not only continuing, but also growing, this year expanding to West Sylvan Middle School, adding a Middle Eastern studies teacher at the high school and organizing a trip for its Arabic speakers to Doha, the capital of Qatar.
Arabic is one of five languages offered at Lincoln, which also has the oldest Spanish immersion program in the state, taking students who start learning Spanish as early as kindergarten in schools that feed into Lincoln.
"Most of the world teaches their students two languages from kindergarten -- their native language and English," said Peyton Chapman, Lincoln principal. "We're one of the few schools in the country that do that. Ideally, (American schools would) teach language to everyone from kindergarten through 12th grade."
As many schools' language programs fall to budget cuts, Lincoln has maintained its newest addition with grants from Qatar Foundation International's Anchor School program. The program awards long-term education grants from the foundation, the U.S. branch of the Qatar-based nonprofit, which has a mission to connect cultures and advance global citizenship through education.
According to the foundation, about one in 10,000 American public school students were studying Arabic in 2009. The National Capital Resource Center in 2009 counted 107 public schools and public charter schools in 22 states with Arabic programs. The list doesn't include programs formed within the past three years, including Qatar Foundation grantees: 10 schools receiving ongoing funding, and five awarded one-time grants.
Lincoln's program started with a $70,000 grant in 2010. Since then the foundation has granted over $300,000 for middle and high school language teachers, a high school Middle Eastern studies teacher, and school trips to the Middle East, Chapman said.
Still, high school Arabic programs are so uncommon Standish doesn't have a standard curriculum to teach from; she created her own.
Standish, a Portland native, started studying Arabic at Barnard College when Spanish became too easy. She has traveled in the Middle East -- Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Syria -- and became fluent in standard Arabic and adept at Arab culture, writing a guidebook to Syria -- "Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture."
"There's a sense of discovery," Standish said. Spanish culture was similar enough to American culture that there weren't many surprises. But in the Middle East, "Even something so simple as going to the store and talking to a cashier, you learn something new."
At the forefront of her teaching -- and the Lincoln language program as a whole -- is passing along that sense of discovery and opening her students' world.
"It's so simple nowadays to shut yourself off from a point of view you don't agree with," Standish said. "The journey is learning to disagree with and also respect another point of view."
After two years of Standish's Arabic classes, Alex Rubenstein, 17, spent last summer with a group of teenagers visiting from Iraq. They weren't so different, he learned. He played soccer and went to a baseball game with them, though they didn't quite understand the latter.
"They were kind and accepting," he said. "I'm Jewish, so I thought that would be a lot different; some of them were Muslim, some were Christian, some weren't anything. But everyone looked past that."
Alejandra Padin-Dujon, 17, has a diverse background that matches her language abilities: Her mother, half black and half east Indian, is from the French-speaking Caribbean, and her father is half white, half Puerto Rican. Padin-Dujon spoke English, French and Spanish when she decided to start Arabic.
"It's a novelty," said Padin-Dujon, who has been in the Spanish immersion program since kindergarten. "I knew Spanish and French; I was just sick of Latin languages."
She spent six weeks last summer in Morocco, sitting in an Arabic-speaking classroom five hours a day. Now she speaks easily and writes in a delicate script. She wants to return to Morocco, where she enjoyed the multi-lingual culture.
Lincoln has an international baccalaureate program, 90 percent graduation rate, and high college placement rate. Strong language programs create a whole person, Chapman said, pushing students past academics to cultural understanding.
"They need to be able to work with diverse people who have a different perspective," she said. "We have a lot of families from other countries who come here to work for global companies. They want their children to be educated for a global future."