SFUSD to explore offering Arabic-, Vietnamese-language classes

In response to a growing number of Arabic- and Vietnamese-speaking students in The City's public schools, the San Francisco Unified School District is considering offering classes in those languages beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

Three Board of Education commissioners on Tuesday will introduce a resolution that would pave the way for the district to create Arabic and Vietnamese World Language Pathways, adding the languages to the list of nearly a dozen others already taught in classrooms through multilingual programs.

World-language pathways are designed for students to develop competency in a second language in addition to becoming fully proficient in English. The target language is taught from 30 to 60 minutes a day, three to five days a week in elementary, middle and high schools.

The program differs from the SFUSD's immersion program, in which classes such as math, social studies and language arts are often taught in the pathway language.

The district currently offers world-language pathways in three languages in elementary school: Tagalog, Italian and Japanese. Courses are also available at the middle and high school levels in Spanish, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hebrew and Russian.

Per the resolution, Arabic- and Vietnamese-language classes would potentially be taught in kindergarten through 12th grades.

“We believe it's important to recognize, celebrate and teach the language, culture and history of our Arabic and Vietnamese communities,” said Matt Haney, the board's vice president and a co-author of the resolution. “These are two of the largest … communities in our city that don't have either language or cultural programs in our schools.”

Arabic has never before been taught in the district, while Vietnamese has only been offered to students through a short-lived support program more than 25 years ago, said Christina Wong, special assistant to the superintendent for the SFUSD.

“We're trying to be as responsive as possible to the community needs,” Wong said.

Out of 30,957 kindergarten through 12th-grade students enrolled in the SFUSD in the 2013-14 school year whose primary or home language is not English, there were 1,124 students whose family speaks Vietnamese, and 455 students whose family speaks Arabic.

Data highlighted in the resolution indicates Vietnamese and Arabic families often face prejudice or anxiety in school. A 2006 study conducted by the Vietnamese Youth Development Center revealed that Vietnamese youth and families identified school as the second most common source of stress.

Additionally, a 2012 survey by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center indicated that 71 percent of students said they spent “no time” that year learning about Arab people, history or culture.

“[The Arabic community especially] feels there is still a lot of discrimination and prejudice against them, that their history and culture is misrepresented in the curriculum that exists,” Haney said.The resolution calls for the district to consider placing the new language pathways at schools with the highest concentration of Arabic and Vietnamese speakers while not encouraging segregation within schools.

The board will not vote on the resolution Tuesday. Program design, staffing and facility needs, as well as the fiscal impact, are among the areas that still need to be studied, district officials said.

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