When language barriers posed a problem for Arab parents in their dealings with the school district, they organized the Arab American Community Development Network earlier this year to push for language classes and, they hope, to more fully integrate their community within Fort Lee.
"As the Arabic-speaking population has increased in recent years in our school district, I have found myself wanting more connection with the Arab community," Dr. Sharon Amato, the district's acting superintendent, said at the group's meeting Wednesday night.
According to state statistics, 3.1 percent of Fort Lee's student population speaks Arabic at home.
High school principal Priscilla Church said that the Arab parent group plays the same function as any other parent-school organization, but that coming together around their common language has been a way to bridge language barriers.
"You need forums so you can have conversations with parents," she said. "It's facilitated this way so we can bring interpreters in, but all the groups are basically the same."
After Yasmine Fouad moved with her family from Egypt to Fort Lee seven months ago, she found a lack of effective communication between much of the borough's Arab population and its Board of Education.
She and Riham Abouizz, a longtime Fort Lee resident, approached Amato with the idea of forming an Arab parent group. In their first two meetings, they have worked as interpreters between the school district and Arabic-speaking parents, orienting them to educational issues and policies.
"I'm a newcomer," Fouad said. "I wanted to meet people and get to know the community, and wanted to do it within the official framework."
At their last meeting, Luddy Serulle-Green, a teacher at School One, provided the parents with information on Common Core State Standards and standardized testing, which Abouizz and Fouad translated into Arabic.
They are now working on a proposal to bring extra-curricular Arabic classes to the schools. The classes would be open to anyone, but are particularly focused on strengthening the language skills of students who primarily speak Arabic. Firm grounding in their native tongue, the hope is, will help students with ESL instruction.
"They suffer for six months or a year to integrate with the school and the kids," Abouizz said, referring to students who have recently immigrated.
Their hope, Fouad says, is that while firm grounding in their native tongue helps forward the education of Arab students, making Arabic courses available to non-speakers will advance intercultural understanding in a community where English is the primary language of less than half the student population.
"The whole idea is the integration of the Arab community," Fouad said, "for American development and for the welfare of the country at large."