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North HS students find connection, opportunities through Arabic language class

Mohamed Moghazy has big plans for his new Arabic language program at North High School in Denver.

DENVER — The class starts at the doorway.

Mohamed Moghazy waits for each student at the door of his classroom at Denver’s North High School, and welcomes them inside with a greeting. He addresses the students in Arabic, and expects the same in return.

“The Arabic world is different. I’m teaching them how to greet,” he said. “It's not just to say ‘hi.’ There [are] ways how to say hi to your coworker, or boss, or a woman, or a child.”

Moghazy teaches students in Arabic I and Arabic II the language, the culture and the nuance of Arabic life. Two years ago, he joined Denver Public Schools to build what is currently the only Arabic program in the district. It's also the only such program currently offered among large districts in the Denver metro.

“For me, I can teach math, I can teach anything. I also have endorsements in those things. But language is a passion,” Moghazy said.

He has other goals for his students, too.

“At the end – money," he said. "I want the kids to learn something to earn money easily. And there is nothing easier than learning a language.”

Moghazy was born in Dubai and raised in Egypt. After earning his bachelor’s degree in education, he said he continued his schooling in the United States. He has a master’s degree from Michigan State University, a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, and is currently working toward a second master’s degree in special education at the University of Northern Colorado.

A family connection led him to Denver, where DPS was looking to hire a teacher to build an Arabic language program. 

The district said Arabic is one of the most commonly spoken languages among students and families, but it did not have a program in place.

“About 20% of our students have roots to the Arab world. About 80% are either Hispanic or white,” Moghazy said.

Some students are searching for a deeper connection to their family roots. Others are simply looking at career opportunities.

“Business and economy, they want travel to Dubai,” he said. ”I said, OK! Let’s do it.”

Abdullah Issa is one of those students who sees big potential for his future career. The freshman speaks Arabic at home, but despite his spoken fluency, he never learned to read or write in the language. He hopes this class will help him formalize his Arabic skills.

“I want to be a translator, because I [also] know how to speak and write English,” he said. “It’s actually a cool thing. You go home, it's Arabic culture. At school, it's English culture.”

“My mom’s whole side of the family speaks Arabic, and my grandmother was teaching me over the summer how to speak Arabic, and I saw this class was available so I thought I would take it,” said Sophie Kurzel, another student in the class.

“I want to do refugee aid, specifically in the Middle East," Kurzel said. "That’s really important to me to be able to speak Arabic in that job.”

One thing Moghazy says this class is not about? Islam. He said he’s had to explain that to a few different students’ families.

“This class is only about the language. The culture. The culture of Arabs is not the culture of Islam. It is different. Not every Muslim is an Arab, and not every Arab is Muslim,” he said.

Moghazy modeled his new Arabic program after North High School’s Spanish Language program. That popular program offers a wide variety of classes, and even the opportunity for students to earn college credits and a minor in Spanish with MSU Denver.

Students continue to show interest. Moghazy said he has about 40 students between his two current classes, and said next year’s Arabic I class is already full.

In addition to teaching these two classes, he serves as a liaison to Arabic families in the district.

“When they see someone that looks like them, has a name like them, same color, same background, they are motivated. And they [have] courage – to put their kid with us,” he said.

“That’s why my dream and my vision is to expand our program in all the district, especially in the south, because we have a big community of Arabs. We’re working on a project with our leaders to implement a new program to serve all our kids in the district," he said.

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