At Brock Bridge Elementary School, students learn Arabic.
At Pershing Hill Elementary, the sounds of Mandarin Chinese ring through classrooms.
Meanwhile, the Anne Arundel County Public School System is phasing out Latin at Old Mill High School. Russian classes were dropped at Broadneck High.
In the face of a changing international landscape, the county school system is altering its foreign language class offerings to adapt to the times, said Jen Hernandez, Coordinator of World and Classical Languages for the school system.
"If you look at the evolution of what people are using skill set-wise today, it just makes sense to put more of the focus on languages like Arabic and Mandarin, languages that are being used more (on the world stage)," Hernandez said. "But regardless of the language, these courses are giving them great skills for the future."
The school system last year introduced Arabic classes at Brock Bridge and Meade Middle School. This year, Arabic was introduced at Meade High School, increasing the number of students taking the language to 256.
Meade High also offers Mandarin Chinese, coinciding with its Homeland Security signature program. More than 630 students in the Meade High cluster are taking Mandarin, up from 103 in 2007-2008.
Mandarin Chinese is the most popular language in the world with more than 1.05 billion speakers; Arabic is fifth with 255 million.
The classes are creating a pipeline of Arabic- and Chinese-speaking students for employers in the national security industry around Fort George G. Meade and beyond, Brock Bridge Principal John Noon said.
"These kids are going to walk out of here ready for a nice job," Noon said.
The goal is for 80 percent of county school students to complete a foreign language by the end of eighth grade, Hernandez said. Her efforts, combined with a handful of grants, have helped the school system expand its foreign language course offerings and increase the number of students taking those classes from 16,112 during the 2007-2008 school year to 23,202 this year.
At Brock Bridge on Wednesday, Arabic teacher George Miller went through letters, numbers and words with his students. They repeated after him, often rolling their tongues and making the guttural sounds of the language.
Fifth-graders Keilyn Cook and Oumarr Bah took to the lessons quickly, becoming two of the first students to name — in Arabic — the stuffed animals Miller held up in front of the class.
Cook said learning Arabic was difficult at first, with different letters, numbers and sounds than English, but she has been getting the hang of it in recent months. The lessons are helping the pair reach their ultimate goal.
"I want to speak the language," Bah said.
Hernandez said she gets calls regularly from school officials looking to start Arabic and Chinese at their schools. The only thing stopping her is money limitations, she said.
At Pershing Hill on Fort Meade Friday afternoon, Chinese teacher Winnie Lee went through letters, animals and other words with a class of first-graders. About 120 students at the school take Chinese.
"It's cool," first-grader Mackenzie Maki said. "I like learning about the animals."
It's easier for students to learn a new language at a young age, when their brains absorb information "like a sponge," Hernandez said.
Along with Chinese and Arabic, the school system has seen an increase in the number of students taking Spanish, French, Italian, Turkish and sign language classes. Spanish is the third most popular language in the world, with an estimated 420 million speakers.
German has seen a decrease in enrollment, from 735 in 2007-2008 to 497 this year, while Russian was eliminated at Broadneck High due to the introduction of the Performing and Visual Arts magnet program and its accompanying Italian courses.
Latin has seen an increase in enrollment, from 441 in 2007-2008 to 492 this year, but Hernandez said that is due to more students taking the course online. Exact figures for online enrollment weren't available.
The school system plans to phase out Latin at Old Mill High beginning this fall. Current students taking Latin will have the opportunity to finish their courses online, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said.
The decision to phase out Latin has upset some in the Old Mill community.
At a public hearing on the county's 2014 budget last week, several parents and students asked county councilmen to do what they could to restore Latin to the Old Mill curriculum.
"It's very disappointing to me that the administration at Old Mill High School does not feel it's important," student Jeannette Alicea said. "It has been an integral part of our society for centuries."
Though only a few dozen students take Latin, they are passionate about the class, said Barbara Mason, parent of an Old Mill Latin student.
"They love the language," Mason said.
The group's testimony prompted kudos from Councilman Pete Smith, D-Severn.
"Whatever you need, I'll try to advocate on your behalf," he said.
Mosier said the phasing-out of the Latin program will allow the school system to offer more AP and Honors courses, along with a sign language course.
Sign language has grown from 77 students in 2007-2008 to 1,020 students this year. The program is thriving at Glen Burnie High. A pilot middle school program is set to begin this fall at Marley Middle, Hernandez said.
Some students are better at sign language, with its use of hands, than at foreign language classes, Hernandez said. The school system is offering more of those classes to meet the demand.