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14 EDITION 136 • JANUARY 11 - 21, 2009 | WWW.ARAMICA.

COM

EDUCATION
What happened to the
Controversial Arabic-themed NYC public school settling at new
KGIA?
premises; few Arab American students
BY: RACHEL MILLARD
The school, which was criti- DOE’s support for the school. discouraged Arab-American par- so that second or third generation
When the Khalil Gibran Inter- cized for not having enough Ara- “The DOE is making life very ents from sending their kids there immigrants can learn about their
national Academy (KGIA) bic language classes, now difficult for parents and students at all, sabotaging the school’s suc- heritage,” said Marie Eleham, a
opened its doors two years ago, employs two full-time native Ara- at both KGIA and P.S. 287,” said cess among the Arab-American mother of two who moved from
the Arabic themed school seemed bic speakers and students have Saba Mansour, an Arab-American community from the outset. Syria 10 years ago, before her
as if it wouldn’t make it beyond one full period of Modern Stan- mother of two kids attending an- “I definitely think the contro- children were born. “But I would
its first year. dard Arabic language first thing other Brooklyn public school, versy of the school was an obsta- not send my daughter there; it’s
The principal, Debbie Al- every morning, with one lesson in “There’s no way all of this dis- cle to parents sending their kids as if we are enlarging the gap be-
montaser, was asked to resign Arabic culture per week. KGIA is ruption can ever be in the best in- there,” says Linda Sarsour, acting tween her and her home, making
after making controversial com- the only dual-language public terests of students.” director of the Arab American As- her feel an immigrant as her par-
ments and parents complained school in New York City to offer For some educators, the early sociation of New York and the ents have felt since they came to
that there was inadequate funding, Arabic-language instruction. In problems the school faced are mother of four young children. this country. She should feel at
very little communications be- other respects, it follows the DOE much more meaningful than just “I think the school has been under home here: this is, after all,
tween them and teachers, and that curriculum. the symptoms of a challenging so much scrutiny that they have to where she was born and raised.”
the school was beset with disci- system. Edwin Mayorga, a mem- put together some kind of mar- She also highlighted a mis-
pline problems. ber of the New York Collective of keting strategy to entice parents conception about the school that
Now well into its second year,
the school appears to be moving
As the Radical Educators, a social justice
teachers’ organization which has
and prove to them why they might prevent other mothers

past its difficulties and is setting school worked closely with the KGIA,
on achieving its mission: to teach
a segment of New York City stu- expands to said he viewed the DOE’s actions
towards the KGIA as an indica-
There is a belief among
dents a slice of Arabic life and
culture, in addition to the so-
high school tion of the poor acceptance of
Arab and Muslim communities in
Arab-American Christians
called three Rs – reading, writing level and NYC public life. that this school teaches the
and arithmetic.
School officials declined to
needs more “This represents a concrete ex-
ample of Arab and Muslims try- Islamic faith in addition to
comment for this article, despite facilities, ing to create space and being
repeated requests for an interview.
Melody Mayer, a spokeswoman its location denied,” he told Aramica, linking
this case to what he sees as other
Arabic.
for the Department of Education, will be examples of discrimination in
said they would not comment be-
cause it would “open the flood- reassessed civic life against Arab and Mus-
lim Americans and other immi-
should send their students there,”
she said, adding that the school’s
from sending their kids there.
“There is a belief among Arab-
gates to more media attention.”
Furthermore, an impending law-
and might grant groups, such as in policing
and immigrants’ rights.
remote location made it very dif-
ficult for students to get there. In
American Christians that this
school teaches the Islamic faith in
suit from Almontaser, who is be moved, “There is a question here,” he an effort to encourage greater at- addition to Arabic,” said Eleham,
suing the DOE after she left the
school, impeded Mayer from
yet again. said, “over which communities
have power and legitimacy, are
tendance from the Arab-Ameri-
can community, the school has
who is a Christian. “I don’t know
the detail of the story of the
making comment. addressed and supported, and recently started advertising a po- school, but I heard that its previ-
Almontaser stepped down as which communities are marginal- tential special bus service to bring ous principal was a fanatic,” she
the school’s principal in a And while last year the school ized.” students from the densely Arab- added.
firestorm of controversy in Au- was beset by a lack of facilities, a So far the KGIA has notably American populated neighbor- As a NYC public school, there
gust 2007 after an article in The donation made early this semes- few native Arabic students. Of a hood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to is no religious education on the
New York Post stated that she had ter from one of the school’s sup- student body of about 60 – it is the school’s premises in the Navy curriculum at KGIA. If Islam is
“downplayed the significance” of port organizations has equipped under-enrolled by 50 percent – Yard. mentioned by name, it is only in
T-shirts bearing the slogan “In- the school with a computer lab only four of these are native Ara- “Any sensible parent would be the context of teaching about Ara-
tifada NYC.” Almontaser said designed for language learners bic speakers, according to Jef- concerned about enrolling their bic culture and history.
that The Post had distorted her with voice-recording software feries. child in a school facing the vigor- “I imagine that many immi-
words and that she had been and word processing software, Why are so few children from ous opposition that KGIA did on grant Arab parents want their chil-
forced to resign by the mayor’s which can manage Arabic fonts. Arabic-speaking families enrolled its opening day,” said Dave Hall, dren to assimilate and be among
office. One widely circulated rumor at a school which was envisioned a musician and active member of American kids,” agreed Mr. Hall,
Recently, Aramica met with about the school was that the as a place for Arabic students to the Downtown Brooklyn Arab- “but I'd like to suggest to Arab
Danielle Jefferis, KGIA program DOE was no longer committed to be the best representatives of their American community, who has parents that the education their
manager for the Arab American supporting it beyond the 8th culture to their non-Arab peers? been invited to serve on a forth- children will get at KGIA is equal
Family Support Center – KGIA’s grade. But Mayer, the DOE And why are so few Arabic chil- coming community advisory to that of the best American pub-
lead community partner – who spokeswoman, denied the rumors dren at a school that many Arab- board at the school. lic schools, with the added bonus
works at the school full time and and said that the school plans to American parents would have Others suggested that the of a strong Arabic-language pro-
closely with its students and fam- add one grade every year. As the called for, as a place where the school’s Arabic theme could in gram, which will serve them and
ilies. Jefferis talked about how the school expands to high school teachers spoke their language and fact be a disadvantage, with par- their adopted country for their
school has settled down since last level and needs more facilities, its their culture was recognized? ents not wanting their kids to be whole professional lives.”
year and how it is adjusting to its location will be reassessed and Some members of the com- isolated from an U.S. upbringing. This article was written as part
new location on Navy Street, might be moved, yet again. The munity fear that the original, neg- “I agree that an Arabic-lan- of an education reporting fellow-
where the school shares the prem- continued uncertainty is frustrat- ative publicity tying the school to guage school can be a good ship granted by New York Com-
ises with P.S. 287. ing many parents who question terrorism and Islamic madrassahs bridge between the generations, munity Media Alliance.

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