PORTLAND — Deering High School is now offering an Arabic language class, part of a new international curriculum, officials say.

“We need our kids to be globally competent to compete in this world,” said Abdullahi Ahmed, who is teaching the class. “Any more languages (they can learn) is a plus. Plus, it is exposing our students to different cultures, different traditions.”

School officials believe it is the first Arabic class to be offered in a public school in Maine, but state officials were unable to confirm that Monday. Deering is also offering Mandarin this fall, through an arrangement with the University of Southern Maine.

Portland schools have more than 50 students who speak Arabic as their primary language at home, according to school data.

Starting this fall, Deering is integrating an international focus into all course work as part of the International Studies School Network, a project of the New York-based nonprofit Asia Society. Deering is the first New England school in the network and one of 34 nationwide.

Ahmed, a Somali who has taught earth science at Deering since 2004, learned Arabic by attending Egyptian schools in Mogadishu. He has 10 students in the Arabic class.

“It is very interesting, and very fun,” Ahmed said. “The students are very engaged and very motivated.”

Several of the students already speak Arabic, while others have no experience with the language, he said.

It’s important for Maine schools to offer many languages to today’s students, said Heather Duquette, a French teacher at Waterville High School.

“Adding Arabic, Mandarin and other critical languages does so much for our students who are leaving high school today in the 21st century and entering a global society,” said Duquette, who is president of the Foreign Language Association in Maine.

“French, Spanish and Latin have been staples in many of our school systems for years, but as time has passed, there has been a realization that there is a dire need to produce citizens who can communicate with many of the other countries that have become key players in the shaping of politics, economics and global policies.”

 

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:[email protected]