Students learning Arabic at Central Junior High in Bedford have three teachers – the two in their classroom and another one 5,000 miles away. In Morocco. Once a month, the class calls him up on Skype. The students practice speaking Arabic and learn something about breaking down cultural barriers, too.
When ninth grader Jackson Boyd chose Arabic as his foreign language elective, he knew he’d be one of the few students to make that choice. Most kids, he says, take Spanish or French. But for him, it’s Arabic.
“I love learning this language because it’s just a unique cool language that most people don’t get the opportunity to hear because they don’t know very many people across the seas,” Boyd said.
Since Jackson and his classmates began Skyping with teacher Bilal Douass in Tangier, Morocco, they’ve gotten to know him pretty well. Everything from his favorite fruit – it’s bananas – to his poetry. Yes, Douass, is also a poet. He writes mostly about love – in Classical Arabic and in Moroccan and Egyptian dialects.
Students listen intently and as Douass, who doesn’t speak English, recites his poem that translates to “My Heart That Loves You.”
Teacher Tamara Haddad, who was born in Jordan, came up with the idea to use Skype while on a study tour of Morocco. She learned about Douass through a friend and reached out to him about the cross-cultural experiment on his Facebook page. She says it’s been invaluable for the kids.
“They’re learning new vocabulary and they know they have to use it but this provides context. A real life situation where they’re talking to a person who is fluent in the language,” Haddad said.
And it’s not just Douass they’ve had a chance to interact with. The 12 students in Haddad’s class also met 25 of their Moroccan peers via Skype.
Fatina Jalambo, a student teacher who is Palestinian, sees benefits beyond just learning a new language. Jalambo, who wears a hijab – a headscarf — says she knows too well the misperceptions people have.
Opening the doors for them and giving them the keys to look and understand the other cultures and accept the other cultures more because there’s a lot of miscommunication, lots of misunderstanding of other cultures,” Jalambo said.
For student Zarah Jamaluddin, whose parents are from Bangladesh, the experiment has also broken down barriers within their own school.
“Some of the students know Arabic better than English, so the language is helping us connect to them and we actually learn more about how they lived before and stuff…”
Next year, the Hurst-Euless Bedford school district will open Viridian Elementary School, which will offer classes in Arabic, Hindi and Chinese as well as a Spanish immersion program. Soon, kids could be Skyping with their peers all over the world.
District officials say more than 73 different languages are spoken in the HEB district. Currently, about 200 students in the district are enrolled in Hindi, Arabic and Chinese language programs.