Philadelphia: Arabic at Franklin High?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat May 20 16:39:19 UTC 2006

Arabic at Franklin High?
That's only one exotic offering the district is mulling for N. Phila. school

russv at 215-854-5987

LOOK FOR A world of difference at Benjamin Franklin High School next fall
as the school expands its focus on international studies and may become
the first public school in the city to offer Arabic as a language course.
Philadelphia School District officials said yesterday they were "exploring
the possibility" of offering Arabic, as well as Middle Eastern and African
studies, at Franklin as early as September. Franklin, on Broad Street just
north of Spring Garden, introduced its International Studies Academy in
September, and began offering Mandarin Chinese language and Chinese
history this year as part of what Franklin Principal Chris Johnson called
the "first phase" of turning the school into a school mainly for
international studies.

"Our children have to understand how our foreign policy affects how we are
seen around the world," Johnson said in an interview yesterday at the
school district headquarters. He also said students will learn how foreign
policy and international relations "shape the economy of the whole world."
Johnson was meeting with Margaret M. Chin, director of the district's
Office of Language, Culture and the Arts, in an effort to try to get money
for the new Arabic-language program.

"If he's convinced that that's what he needs, then we're going to somehow
make it happen," Chin said yesterday. Johnson said Franklin is not trying
to compete with a school like the Bodine School for International Affairs,
a magnet school at 4th and George streets in Northern Liberties. Bodine is
one of the district's special-admission schools, which means students must
score near the 90th percentile on national tests to be admitted. But
Johnson said he is hoping to provide an education in international studies
at a neighborhood school like Franklin.

Johnson also noted that Franklin, while technically in North Philadelphia,
is part of the new Center City Region and that his school has "lost
population because the neighborhood has changed." The school, whose
student body is mostly African-American, is expecting to recruit more
white, Latino, Russian-immigrant and Chinese students from the Center City
area for next year. The school already has attracted about 40 students
from nearby Chinatown this year because of its new Chinese-language

Johnson said he has high expectations for Franklin and the
international-studies program. He said the school will drop its health and
technology-information academy, one of three academies at Franklin. But it
will keep its hotel and hospitality academy as it expands the
international- studies program. The international-studies program occupies
the two top floors of the six-story school, but will add the fourth floor
next year. The school also hopes to double to 400 students the
international-studies academy, John-son said. The growth will come from
current Franklin students and from new students who have been recruited
from around the city.

Marwan Kriede, executive director of the Arab-American Community
Development Corp., said he was "very pleased" to hear that the district
may be teaching Arabic and Middle Eastern culture in the fall. He said
that there have been Arabs living in Philadelphia since the 1860s. "The
problem with the lack of knowledge is that it breeds misinformation and
stereotypes," Kriede said. "The more Americans know about the Arab world,
it breaks down the barriers... . It makes all of us realize how normal and
regular every one is," he added. "We're not that exotic. We're just like
everyone else."

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