CHS Teaches Students about the Culture of Arabic World

April 9, 2014
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James Soares, Arabic Teacher, and Alex Kalamaroff, Programming Development, standing in front of a mural created by the Arabic Summer Academy in 2013.

James Soares, Arabic Teacher, and Alex Kalamaroff, Programming Development, standing in front of a mural created by the Arabic Summer Academy in 2013.

Charlestown High School (CHS) offers one of the longest running Arabic programs in the country to introduce students to the language and culture of the Arabic world. Students examine art, music, poetry, food, religion, and architecture of various regions in Africa and the Middle East.

“I love this school because it’s open enrollment,” said James Soares, Arabic Teacher. “I think it’s great that we’re offering a unique opportunity for our students. It’s indicative to Charlestown. We like to cater to the students to make them successful.”

Arabic I explains fundamental linguistics such as the 28-character alphabet and grammatical markings. Students learn to write a new script, describe themselves and others, and hold basic conversations.

Arabic II is an intimate class that delves deeper into the Arabic culture. The first unit explores popular themes found in Arabic literature. Soares takes the class on field trips to Arabic restaurants to get a taste of the cuisine. Students also learn to play traditional rhythms on Arabic percussion instruments.

“It’s interesting to see how students react to it,” Soares said. “A lot of kids feel they have a blank slate.”

Outside the classroom are posters of students’ dream houses that’s items are labeled in Arabic. The class is also in the process of writing/performing a soap opera screenplay with quintessential intrigue, scandal, and cheating.

“The goal is full immersion,” Soares said. “Whenever I design lessons, I try to maximize the amount of Arabic I speak.”

There have been students whose first language is Arabic, but many of them are only familiar with their country’s dialect. Soares focuses on teaching his students Modern Standard Arabic, the formal, written form of the language.

Soares studied Political Science and Philosophy at UMass Amherst, where he enrolled in an Arabic program and traveled abroad to the Jordan and Egypt.

“I fell in love with it. It’s such a beautiful language. It’s very much a rules-based language,” Soares said.

CHS has an Arabic Summer Academy for students to study during the summer and earn high school credits. With there being so few Arabic programs offered in high schools, Soares aspires to ease the transition between high school level courses and the curriculum colleges provide.  This was the first year that Arabic has been offered to sophomores, and Soares hopes to offer Arabic III within the next two years.