Members of the community and student body gathered to celebrate the 10th year of the Arabic Studies Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and discuss the future of Arabic language classes at Lincoln Public Schools on Wednesday night.

Many of the panelists represented the Arabic-speaking community of Lincoln and advocated for the integration of Arabic language classes into Lincoln public high schools. They also encouraged current UNL students to look into the benefits of learning Arabic.

Abla Hasan is the founder and coordinator of the Arabic Studies Program, a UNL Ph.D. graduate and professor of practice of Arabic at UNL. Hasan kickstarted the program in 2013, and the power of the program is still prevalent today.

“She is the one that made this happen, so I just have to make sure you all know this is not my magic,” said UNL associate professor of sociology and ethnic studies Lory Dance. “This is Dr. Abla’s magic.” 

Freshman psychology major Amani Al-Hamedi introduced the night's panelists and expressed her passion for young people to learn Arabic.

“It’s not just the non-Arabs who are struggling to understand Arabic; us Arabs can be guilty of it ourselves,” Al-Hamedi said during her speech. “All of these experiences from both English speakers and Arabic speakers make one thing very clear: Arabic should definitely be a language taught in public schooling.”

The panel, mediated by Dance, included six members of the community to discuss the success of Arabic classes and future hopes for the teaching of the language in Lincoln Public Schools.

Lincoln Northeast High School and Lincoln North Star High School both offer Arabic classes but are taught by the same teacher – Mohammed Saleh Alnajem. World language curriculum specialist Kate Damgaard works with Alnajem through Lincoln Public Schools.

“I have to say this was one of the processes that I've actually seen move quicker than other programs are taking,” Damgaard said during the panel. “I think a lot of it started here, within this panel of interests of community members of making sure that we are keeping the languages that are here and keeping them alive.”

Both Alnajem and Damgaard emphasized the importance of teachers at this stage of growing the program to other Lincoln public high schools. Teachers with LPS can teach traditional school subjects (language arts, math, science, etc.) as well as Arabic.

“More than anything you have to have a teaching certificate,” Damgaard said during the panel. “That is the main piece, but since it is not an endorsement program yet, it allows us to be a little bit more flexible on what the specific endorsement is.”

Ahmed Issa, a member of the panel, came to the United States as a refugee in 1996 and moved to Lincoln in 1998. Issa spoke about the importance of preserving the Arabic language for future generations.

“It’s important to our prayer, our religion. It’s all connected in the Arabic class,” said Issa during the panel. “We must do something for our next generation. If we don't do it, if we don’t pass down the Arabic language for the next generation, it will be lost.”

Loukia K. Sarroub, a professor and the chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education at UNL with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Anthropology, spoke more to the global application of Arabic.

“Arabic is one of the six official languages of the United Nations,” said Sarroub during the panel. “So when Lincoln Public Schools chooses to include Arabic as one of the languages that is offered in the curriculum, it's really in line with the global movement that's been in place for quite a while.”

The Arabic program at UNL now extends to all students in the NU system for intensive, online coursework and is offering its first Arabic summer camp at Cedar Point Biological Station this summer.