A group of adult protesters likely spoiled the first day of class for 132 knee-high pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students at Texas’ Houston Independent School District (HISD) who were on their way to a new Arabic immersion program at their school.
On Monday morning, about 30 adult protesters spread out around the school fence holding signs and waving American and Israeli flags, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“Everything I needed to know about Islam I learned from Muslims on 9-11-2001,” one sign read. “Qatar out of our school,” another sign stated.
Protesters told the Houston Chronicle that they don’t have problems with “other immersion schools or with independent Arabic language classes, but said the school was anti-American, and that immigrants should be ‘assimilated.’” The population at the Arabic school is about 30 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, and 30 percent African American, according to the HISD news blog.
This is the first semester at HISD’s Arabic Immersion Magnet School (or AIMS), a program that offers students the opportunity to spend half their day in classes taught in Arabic and half taught in English. The program welcomes children from 40 different Houston-area zipcodes, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said.
Behind Spanish, Arabic is the second most common foreign language spoken at home among people living in the Houston Independent School District.
HISD opened a Mandarin immersion program in 2012 without any issues and has a Spanish dual language program that expanded from 31 to 52 campuses this year. The school district is also in talks to open a Hindi immersion program and a French immersion program.
Studies suggest that giving bilingual education to children can provide long-lasting benefits, like delaying dementia; teaching better self-regulation skills needed for focus and self-control; increasing children’s awareness of new sounds like the ones they hear in the second language; and boosting creativity.
Though Houston’s Arabic-speaking population hovers around 23,000, not all Arabic-speaking individuals are Muslims. In fact, only 20 percent of Muslims worldwide speak the language.
Even so, anti-Muslim activity is on the rise in Houston and around the country. In February, an accelerant was used to burn down an Islamic community and education center, a suspected arson that came just days after a gunman shot to death three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There have been at least five anti-mosque incidents in Texas between 2006 and 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union found.