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(Enlarge) Sally Majoros, a docent at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, gives students in Meade Middle School's Arabic summer camp a tour of the museum's Islamic art collection. The students learned about Arabic language and customs during a two-week camp that began July 12. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

Yasmina Saba was born in Egypt. Her parents and brother, who live in Annapolis, speak Arabic at home.

But Yasmina cannot read or write her native tongue.

That is why her parents, who were also born in Egypt, enrolled Yasmina in an Arabic class that was part of the Anne Arundel County World Languages Summer Program at Meade Middle School.

The 11-year-old was one of seven students to study the Arabic language and culture during a two-week program that began July 12 and ends today, July 22.

"It will help me improve my Arabic and it's going to help me with my [future] job," said Yasmina, a sixth-grader at Severn River Middle School.

Students throughout the county could choose to enroll in one of four summer language camps at Meade Middle School: Arabic, Chinese, Italian or Spanish. The camps are sponsored by the Anne Arundel County Public School's Office of World and Classical Languages.

The effort to teach Arabic and Chinese in the nation's public schools is a result of the National Security Language Initiative started by former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2006. STARTALK, a program aimed at promoting the learning and teaching of critical foreign languages, is part of the initiative.

Betsy Hart, program director of STARTALK, said the critical foreign languages include Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Persian, Urdu, Swahili, Turkish, Russian and Dari.

The county public schools received a $100,000 grant from STARTALK to offer Arabic and Chinese this summer. Jennifer Hernandez, coordinator of the Office of World and Classical Languages, said the two languages are "up and coming" and are critical for future business and government relations.

This is the first year Arabic has been offered in the summer, while Chinese has been offered at Meade Middle School and Meade High School for three years.

The county is investing in Arabic and Chinese instruction in the Meade school feeder system to prepare students for entrance to the Homeland Security Signature Program at Meade High School.

The county school system is now applying for an extension of funding to teach Arabic and Chinese in after-school programs at MacArthur and Meade Middle schools and Meade High School in the fall.

In the fall of 2011, the school system plans to offer a three-tier Arabic curriculum at Meade Middle School and Meade High School. The first course will be "Arabic Thought and Culture."

John Eskandar, the summer Arabic instructor at Meade Middle School, said students have been learning the 28-letter Arabic alphabet, along with basic reading and writing skills. They also learned about the religions and foods of the Middle East as well as ancient Egyptian art.

"I find it really amazing how they're learning -- and they're good at it," said Eskander, 19, who was also born in Egypt and attends the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

On July 15, students from all four language camps visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to learn about the art of their respective countries. The Arabic students went on a tour of the museum's Islamic art collection led by docent Sally Majoros.

"There was a lot of art that the Arabic culture did," said Naeem Brown, 10, a fifth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Baltimore. "They made a lot of different armor."

Majoros said she was impressed by the students. "They seemed to know quite a bit and they asked a lot of questions," she said.

After lunch in a nearby park, the students visited the Peabody Institute and received a lesson about the music of their respective countries from Beth Stewart, an adjunct voice instructor and opera singer.

Stewart talked about how Arabic instruments influenced those in Western culture and how the Arabs influenced the music and architecture of Spain.

Madison Dailey, a fifth-grader at Saint Pius X in Baltimore Country, said she enjoyed listening to Arab music. "I liked it a lot," the 10-year-old said. "It was a lot of fun."

Today, students in each of the four language camps will perform either a song or skit for their parents to show how much they have learned over the two weeks.

Mitzi Dailey, Madison's mother, said her daughter has been excited about the Arabic class.

"It's been very rewarding," said Dailey, who has talked to Madison about future career opportunities as an interpreter. "I want to open her eyes to all kinds of possibilities."

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