Throughout the month of April, the main office foyer was adorned by mannequins with Arab clothes, a collage of brightly colored zellige patterns, banners made with flags of Arab countries and blue and gold decorations for the celebration of Ramadan.
Arab America and the Arab America Foundation launched the National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM) initiative in 2017 and a handful of states recognized the initiative. In 2021, April was federally recognized as NAAHM for the first time. This recognition was celebrated by the Arab community at Lane.
Arabic teacher Mohamed Danja engaged his students with various activities to celebrate the month. He put a pause to his normal teaching plans to let his students color Arab originating zellige patterns, and to create informational posters and banners with flags of Arab countries.
“It’s awareness,” Danja said. “Because we take our culture for granted because even when you talk to each other, you realize that it is not one unique Arabic culture, there are different cultures, ” he said, emphasizing the importance of NAAHM.
Additionally, signs in Arabic created by students in Arabic 3 and 4 can be seen around Lane, labeling areas like bathrooms, windows, doors and the library with Arabic words. For example, doors have “ba-b” and bathrooms have “ham-maam” written in Arabic to share the language with the Lane community.
“I always rely on my students to come up with some cool ideas,” Danja said.
A sophomore in Danja’s Arabic 2 class, Angelina Wyrwas, played a big role in organizing activities for the celebration of NAAHM.
Wyrwas made a playlist of Arabic songs to play in the morning and created a survey to organize students from Arabic 3 and 4 to do morning announcements in Arabic, creating increased student involvement. Participating students created their own sentences according to various prompts.
Despite difficulties with organizing club performances, Middle Eastern Club was able to perform in front of the Main Office before school on April 19.
Being a part of the Arab community, Wyrwas said she wanted to make sure everyone felt included in the celebration as she herself has felt excluded at times due to her mixed heritage.
She worked with Gabriela Escobar, Lane’s director of Culture and Climate, throughout the school year.
“What we put out and what is displayed is really what comes from the students,” Escobar said.
Escobar said she hopes to increase student involvement for future celebrations and add more activities, such as performances and guest speakers.
“It’s the personal experience that really makes these events special,” Escobar said.
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Escobar
Decoration board outside the main office displaying zellige patterns made by students, Ramadan decoration by Lane’s Muslim Club and Arab clothing brought by Mohamed Danja.