ISU and Edwards Elementary celebrate Arab American Heritage Month


Cassie Lehmann

Edwards Elementary School students partake in a henna craft activity in celebration of Arab American Heritage Month.

Celebrating their Arab American heritage, the World Language and Cultures department shared their Arab knowledge with Edwards Elementary School students on Tuesday.

April marks the start of National Arab American Heritage Month to formally recognize the achievements and rich culture of Arab Americans. Last year, President Joe Biden was the first U.S. leader to declare April as the month of Arab celebration.

“The first Arab immigrants date back to the 1870s,” said Ghinwa Alameen, an assistant teaching professor in world languages and cultures. “All hardworking small-business owners who loved and engaged with their community, because for Arabs, family is the core of society.”

Edwards Elementary partnered with Alameen and her students to hold a school-wide assembly for more than 400 students and staff. Edwards Elementary strives to celebrate every culture in their school with monthly Inclusion Celebrations, according to the Edwards Elementary School Principal Jessica Sharp.

“All month long, each week, kids engage with activities led by their classroom teacher,” Sharp said. “We start each month with a kickoff, and so those kickoffs look different for each celebration. Our diversity and equity team split up and has taken the different months and create those lesson plans for the kickoff.”

Previously, the school has celebrated Hispanic heritage, Native American heritage, Italian American history, Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, Black History Month, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Women’s History Month and Pride Month.

The school’s lesson plans are intentional about tying lesson plans in with their Inclusion Celebration theme of the month.

“The partnership [between Edwards Elementary and the Iowa State Arabic program] has been amazing,” Sharp said. “When we think about changing our world, what’s in our locus of control to make a difference being able to have that partnership is dynamite.”

Each grade participated in grade-level appropriate activities ranging from Arabic games, henna, crafts, calligraphy and dancing.

“[Sharp] contacted me last year to make this an annual event,” Alameen said. “That’s why we decided to throw different activities for each grade. So next year, when students go to the next grade, they will get to do a different activity.”

This month’s Inclusion Celebration will focus on celebrating nearly 3.7 million Arab Americans that reside within the United States. In Iowa, Arab Americans reside in 73 out of the 99 counties, mostly immigrating from Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia and Morocco according to Arab American Institute.

Originally from Homs, Syria, Alameen moved to the United States in 2005. She then started her Iowa State journey in 2012, spearheading the World Languages and Cultures Department. In 2017 Alameen completed her Applied Linguistics PhD from Iowa State.

“The last census in 2020, the recommendation was to add a box for Arab-Americans or for MENA [Middle Eastern North Africa], but they did not include that and are trying to do it again in the coming census,” Alameen said. “If there is a box for ‘other,’ then I put ‘other,’ otherwise I put white, but I am not white.”

The Iowa State Arab program offers two years of Arabic, an Arab culture course and literature courses. For more information about the Arab program, you can visit their website or email Alameen at [email protected].