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Houston to Open Arabic Immersion Elementary School

The Houston Independent School District plans to open one of the nation's first public Arabic immersion elementary schools in fall 2015.

Superintendent Terry Grier told Education Week the move is part of his push to graduate more bilingual students. The district opened a Mandarin Chinese immersion school in 2012 and plans to have about 50 schools with Spanish dual-language programs next year after doubling the number last year, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The Arabic school will start small next year, with slots for nearly 90 kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students. Teachers will split instruction time evenly between Arabic and English.

"We're in the energy capital of the world," Grier said in an interview with Education Week. "A lot of our medical doctors speak Arabic."

In the Houston school district, Arabic is the second-most common foreign language spoken at home and the metropolitan region has seen its Arabic-speaking population spike in recent years. The school board unanimously approved the plan in November.

Arabic classes have failed to become a common offering in U.S. public schools despite a 2006 initiative by former President George W. Bush to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking and teaching Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi and other languages considered critical for national security reasons. Known as the National Security Language Initiative and financed in part by the Defense Department, the effort aimed to expand instruction in undertaught languages with grants to K-12 districts and programs.

Staff writer Benjamin Herold contributed to this report.

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