Bearden High School students will have the opportunity to take Arabic as a foreign language this fall, becoming the first school in the county to offer the class.
The school will welcome a teacher from Morocco who is part of a grant program from the Teachers of Critical Languages Program, which is through the American Councils for International Education program which is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department.
The program and teacher are free to Knox County. The American Councils will provide the teacher with a $20,000 stipend over the 10.5 months of the program.
Knox County selected Bearden and Hardin Valley Academy to apply for the one-year program, which has sought to expand Arabic and Mandarin foreign language programs across the country since 2006.
Knox County Schools' grants manager, Laura Denton, said the two schools were selected to apply because both schools have large populations of Arabic descent and both schools operate on block scheduling, which allows students to get both semesters of Arabic in a year.
Bearden was selected and becomes the first school in the state to be selected for an Arabic teacher from the program. Reeves-Rogers Elementary in Murfreesboro was selected to host a Mandarin teacher in the past. Denton said this is the first time Knox County has applied for the program.
Bearden's teacher, who has not yet been named, will come with one year on a temporary J-1 visa which is created for study-based exchange programs. The county can reapply for the program one time, but would likely get a different teacher as the visa will not be renewed after the program concludes, according to the program contract.
The Knox County Commission approved the program Monday night – it had previously been approved by the Knox County Board of Education.
Bearden Principal John Bartlett said the program fits a need and will join Spanish, German, Latin and French as the foreign languages offered Bearden. As of two weeks ago, 37 students had signed up to take the class.
"Some are native Arabic speakers or they're coming from homes that speak Arabic in their home," he said. "Some are from Middle Eastern dissent, have parents or grandparents that speak it or it is culturally (significant to them). Some find it interesting or think it might be good for business or military."
The teacher will go through a two week orientation program and another three day training for foreign language teachers. The program provides the teachers with a stipend, medical insurance and provides ongoing monitoring and support, which will be provided by Bearden.
The teacher will teach Arabic One the first semester and Arabic Two in the second semester, Bartlett said. The school's block scheduling makes this a little easier, he said. Bartlett also said the school will do an assessment mid-year to decide if they will apply for the program again.
Bartlett said the teacher will also volunteer with the school's English as a second language program and help those who come from Arabic backgrounds.
Bartlett said he's not concerned about negative feedback from the community due to any negative connotations some may have with Arabic.
"It's not a concern. We're a pretty diverse school at Bearden High School," he said. "We have many cultures here and we've not had those issues. We've not had those issues where people have raised a concern.
"My goal is for everybody at Bearden High School to get a great education no matter their religion or where they're from," he said.