The two new language programs at Lewiston High School, Arabic and Chinese, "are going fabulous," said Principal Shawn Chabot.
"The Arabic classes' loads are pretty full," he said, while the Chinese classes are half full. He said enrollment is tied to when students learned about the new classes.
The Arabic classes were offered in the spring, six months before the new school year while the Chinese program wasn't offered until two weeks before school started. Considering that, enrollment is better than expected, he said.
The Chinese program was authorized by the School Committee after the district could not find a French teacher to replace one who had left. Language teachers are increasingly hard to find, Chabot said.
Offering Chinese and Arabic in a Maine public high school isn't common; traditional language classes are Spanish, French and Latin. But more and more schools are offering other, non-European languages, Chabot said.
Since the Chinese teacher is part of the regular budget, Chinese classes are expected to be offered next year, said Assistant Superintendent Tom Jarvis.
The Arabic program is offered through a one-year U.S. State Department grant that's scheduled to expire in June. The school department hopes it will again be taught in 2017-18.
"We are very pleased with student interest and hopeful we'll be able to sustain it for another year," Jarvis said. "We are going to apply again for a grant."
Arabic teacher Yahya Ismael said he's pleased with not only student interest, but what he's found at the high school and in Lewiston.
The community is nothing like what's portrayed by the media in his native Egypt, he said.
When his family learned he was to teach in the United States, "they were horrified," Ismael said. What they know of the United States is from violent action movies and news of mass shootings. They considered the United States a violent, scary place.
After learning from the State Department he was coming to Lewiston, Ismael researched the city and learned it's a place that has had a large influx of Somali and other immigrants since 2001.
He learned that Lewiston "is very welcoming and can accept people from different cultures, religions," he said, adding that the new perspective of the United States made him and his family feel "very happy."
Some Lewiston students from immigrant families lack education and social skills because of where they came from, he said. Lewiston teachers, the schools and community are supportive, patient and generous. "You are doing a very good job as human beings."
Maine may have cold and snow that he and immigrants aren't used to, "but people's emotions and feelings make us warm, really," he said. "At Thanksgiving I got five or seven invitations."