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Fifth and sixth graders in all 52 Haifa elementary schools will take Arabic-language classes as well as study Arab and Islamic history, as part of their regular curriculum.

The project will be funded by the Ministry of Education and the Haifa Municipality.

Two years ago, Haifa municipality and the Abraham Fund Initiatives began a pilot project in 12 elementary schools called "Language as a Cultural Bridge." A year later the number of participating institutions doubled.

The aim of the project, beyond teaching spoken and literary Arabic, is to "link Jewish pupils to the Arab population which is the second-largest [community] in the country," said Rachel Metuki, educational director at the municipality.

"The program is experiential, and in addition to the language lessons, there will be story tellers in Arabic, audio tapes and plays in Arabic," she explained. "The pupils will learn about Arab family and community life, cultural codes, and all aspects of customs."

Contrary to the Junior High School pupils throughout the country who study literary Arabic only, the Haifa pupils will learn spoken Arabic and will make daily use of it.

"Whoever goes to the market in Wadi Nisnas [an Arab neighborhood in Haifa] will speak Arabic with the people there," she said.