There was a wedding Thursday afternoon at Marie G. Davis Military and Global Leadership Academy in Charlotte.
The bride, rising 8th grader Brittany Harper, wore white and carried a bouquet of purple flowers, a plastic tiara on her head. The groom, Joseph Banos, wore a black vest and black Converse sneakers.
Family members watched from the bleachers of the schools gymnasium, smiling and laughing throughout the wedding and the dancing, music and food that followed.
The ceremony, a reenactment of a traditional Middle Eastern wedding, concluded the schools four-day summer Arabic camp.
Marie G. Davis, a magnet school for grades K-12, has offered Arabic classes for three years, making it the first public school in North Carolina to do so. This was the schools first summer camp and about 45 elementary and middle school students participated. The camp was intended to give students a weeklong immersion into Arabic culture and language.
Harper said she found the week fun and interesting, adding that she hopes someday to speak fluent Arabic.
Bassam Halaweh, an Arabic teacher at the school, said they chose to end the program with a wedding ceremony to break stereotypes surrounding Middle Eastern weddings that not all cultures require arranged marriages. We wanted to show that marriage is about the womens freedom to choose, he said. We wanted to clarify that you arent forcing them.
Halaweh said he teaches about 100 students at the high school level, and more than 400 students are in the program overall. The school also offers Spanish classes. The kids here are really smart, very inquisitive, very curious, he said.
Originally from Jordan, Halaweh said he moved to the U.S. 30 years ago and has taught Arabic at nearly every education level since then.
Halaweh said many government and military agencies, as well as international businesses, would be impressed by applicants who know Arabic.
Right now, our emphasis is that we want people to be 21st-century ready, he said. Knowing a second language will open doors for them.
Yazmiere Letcher, a rising 6th grader who played a flower girl in the wedding, said she has learned a lot this week from information about Cairo, Egypt to new Arabic words.
Her favorite word? Burtuqall, she said, which means orange.
Letcher said she hopes to continue learning Arabic and someday become a translator.
Scarlett Castillo, a rising 8th grader who played the priest Thursday, said she began taking Arabic last year.
At first they assigned it to me, and I didnt know what it was, she said. All elementary school students are required to take Arabic once a week, with the idea in mind that by the time they graduate they will be fluent.
Everything about it seems unique, Castillo added.
The program was funded by a $600,000 federal Foreign Language Assistance Program grant. The grant expires June 30 but will not be renewed because the grant was eliminated.
But Assistant Principal Ann Laszweski said the loss of the grant wont jeopardize the program, and the school is already looking for new grants. Next year, the school will expand the program to offer North Carolinas first Middle Eastern history curriculum.
Ashley Williams, a teacher at Marie G. Davis and mother of two daughters who take Arabic, said she supports the program. Its a unique opportunity, she said. (My daughter) wouldnt have learned this anywhere else.