Junior moves through process to start Arabic language class

Michael Diamant ’09’s quest for a Hebrew class started as a joke. After being invited to a Facebook group called “Arabic at Harvard-Westlake,” created by Kate Liebman ’09 to gauge student interest in an Arabic program, Diamant invited a few close friends to join a group called “Hebrew at Harvard-Westlake” as a gag.

“Two days later I checked the group and there were 18 people in it and comments from kids saying they really want to do this,” he said.

Though Diamant’s plans have since cooled (Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra suggested that Diamant start a club rather than a formal class, but interest has dissipated), his pursuit is only one of several student-driven efforts to expand the school’s slate of courses, primarily in the foreign language department.

Director of Studies Deborah Dowling said that students who are interested in subjects not offered as part of the school’s curriculum may pursue their interests through three avenues: a club, a Directed Study, or an Independent Study.

In rare cases, formal, ongoing classes like Chinese and Japanese have been organized but the approval process can take years.

Differences between these three options are significant: a club meets outside of class time and is not graded, a Directed Study meets during class time and is graded, and an Independent Study is a solo class where a student meets with a teacher at mutually convenient times with a final project that is graded for academic credit.

Students unsure of which alternative to choose can meet with Salamandra and Dowling, as well as the head of the department that their course of study would fall under.

Students spearheading the initiative must find a faculty member to support the effort, either as an advisor or as a formal teacher and usually for no additional pay.
If this effort fails, the plan usually folds.

Still, Dowling notes, persistent students have taken classes through UCLA extension and other supplemental learning facilities, while on rare occasions outside advisers have been hired on an hourly basis to lead clubs like Debate and Robotics.

The least complicated process is to found a club. Clubs are pitched by their student leaders and faculty advisors to the Prefect coucnil, which votes and institutes the club immediately upon approval.

A student pursuing an Independent Study, which is available only to seniors, must submit an application in their junior year to English teacher Geraldine Harding, who coordinates the program.

If a program has generated interest significant enough to warrant a Directed Study, the founder must create a proposal, which is then discussed and voted on by the teachers in the relevant academic department.

If the department approves, the proposal is passed on to the Faculty Academic Committee. The formation of a Directed Study is contingent upon the endorsement of both groups.

Liebman’s mission to create a Directed Study of Arabic has reached this stage after some initial pitfalls.

“She hit an immediate snag because we do not have a teacher on faculty to teach [the class],” Dowling said.

Still, Liebman was determined to achieve her goal.

“I think that Arabic is essential information that our country needs to navigate through the complicated world we live in today,” she said.

Liebman’s Facebook group generated enough student curiosity to convince Salamandra that “it may be an exceptional case,” Dowling said. Salamandra will investigate hiring an outside teacher.

Liebman then consulted with Dowling, Salamandra and Foreign Language Department Head Javier Zaragoza and wrote a proposal that will be presented to the foreign language teachers in December and, if approved, to the Faculty Academic Committee.

“If the votes are positive, we will have a new Directed Study next year,” Dowling said.