Fay Beydoun's parents speak Arabic at home, and she's learning the language at Riverside Academy West.
"Alsalam Alikoum. Kaif halak," she repeated during a recent Arabic class featuring common greetings. Translation: Hello. How are you?
"I already knew how to write the language, but it's good to be able to speak it and understand it, too, inside and outside the classroom," said Beydoun, 17, a senior.
It is part of the curriculum in all grades at 10 schools in the Global Educational Excellence charter system, which has facilities in Hamtramck, Detroit, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Ann Arbor.
The charter schools were founded by Palestinian immigrant Mohamad Issa and his brother Said Issa in 1997 with 97 students. He said learning Arabic, in addition to the traditional core curriculum, will better enable students to compete in a global marketplace.
The next logical step, he said, is to expand into the Middle East, becoming the only Michigan-based charter system on foreign soil.
"Sweden operates a charter-like system, and they're also found in Canada, England, and New Zealand ... ," he said. "There are other charter school management companies with schools in other countries, but as far as we know, there aren't any other Michigan-based charter operators with schools in other countries."
Back at Riverside West Academy, when the bell rings, it resembles any other school with kids laughing, greeting each other and quickly moving to the next classroom.
The similarities end there. The schools practice gender separation in all academic classes. But boys and girls eat in the same cafeteria, which is halal in keeping with Islamic law.