In late July, Sacramento residents celebrated a traditional Arabic baby shower. Attendees were welcomed with coffee, sang cheerful songs, and watched as the baby’s grandmother rang a ceremonial bell. Then the children stopped role-playing, their summer camp ended for the day, and they went home to their parents.
This interactive celebration was one part of a new summer program orchestrated by Arabic Language Education For Everyone (ALEFE), a local nonprofit dedicated to introducing Arabic language and culture to public school students.
The program mixes Montessori pedagogy with StarTalk standards to create a fun, hands-on learning experience for heritage and non-heritage students, said Amira Kotb, the co-Executive Director of ALEFE, which is pronounced Aleph.
“We’re showing them that in order to learn about a culture, it needs to happen through a direct interaction with the culture,” Kotb said.
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Marwa Swelam, a teacher at the summer camp, said she was surprised how quickly kids had picked up basic Arabic words and grammar.
Because ALEFE was one of 19 California agencies awarded a StarTalk foreign language grant, every kid can attend the camp for free. StarTalk is a federal program overseen by the National Security Agency to teach strategically important languages in the United States.
While bilingual education has been a polarizing issue in America, some studies have suggested that students in dual-language programs have higher test scores and fewer behavioral problems.
Within the next 5 years, ALEFE hopes to found a multilingual Arabic charter school in Sacramento, according to their website.