A photo of children in the STARTALK SAMI program petting a horse from the Chicago Police Department's Mounted Unit.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Northeastern Illinois University’s Multilingual Learning Center (MLC) is hosting a five-week intensive course for students in kindergarten through fifth grade this summer to learn Arabic and explore its culture. The program also has adult students who hope to become teachers of the language.

This is the first year Northeastern was awarded a STARTALK combined grant of $100,000 to host both a Success and Access through Multilingualism Initiative (SAMI) program and Summer Arabic Language Teacher Training (SALTT). MLC Coordinators Denise Cloonan Cortez de Andersen and Jeanine Ntihirageza hope it won’t be the last.

“Arabic is a critical language,” Cloonan Cortez de Andersen said. “Through these programs we are able to support the preservation of Arabic culture and language.”

STARTALK is a federally funded grant program with a goal of increasing the number of students and teachers of 11 languages crucial to U.S. national security. The mission of SAMI is to provide underserved minority children in Chicago opportunities to expand cultural awareness as well as build cognitive skills and self-confidence by learning world languages. SALTT provides resources and opportunities to educators to gain skills to effectively teach Arabic.

“Many of the children are heritage speakers, but some are not,” Cloonan Cortez de Andersen said. “It takes a lot of dedication for the kids to be here, five days a week for five hours each day.”

This is the second year Northeastern was awarded a grant for the SALTT program, and two of last year’s teacher trainees became lead instructors for this session.

As part of the program, students have a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) curriculum. A section of the lesson is about the animals in plants in Arabic-speaking countries. One of the animals they learn about is horses.

Cloonan Cortez de Andersen was able to work with members of the Chicago Police Department’s Mounted Unit to bring two horses to Northeastern’s Main Campus on July 17 so students could get a hands-on experience with them. The horses, Airhart and Casper, were named after Joseph Airhart Jr. and Casper Laurer, two officers who were killed in the line of duty. While the officers taught the students about the horses, the children taught the officers how to say “horse,” “goodbye” and “thank you” in Arabic.

The STARTALK MLC team also plans to take the class to Lincoln Park Zoo to have the youths learn more about the animals they’re discussing later in the term.