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Suburban Chicago school celebrates Arab American Heritage Month with the help of UIC

Arab American Heritage Month celebrated by suburban Chicago students
Arab American Heritage Month celebrated by suburban Chicago students 02:32

CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of Oak Park students danced in their seats Friday morning, most of them to songs they'd never heard.

It was part of an outreach program for Arab American Heritage Month as they found their rhythm in exploring new cultures.

Inside the auditorium of Oak Park's Washington Irving School, students pick up songs from an ocean away.

Some of their tiny feet are too short to reach the ground as they try to tap into the music. However, this is the students' second yearly visit to the University of Illinois Chicago Arab American Cultural Center for Arab American Heritage Month.

The outreach project started last year.

"It is one of the most fun parts of my job, I would say, because these kids are amazing," said organizer Zeina Zaatari, director of the UIC Arab American Cultural Center.

They're sharing the languages, the music, and the food to show them how people from 22 countries are now woven into Chicago's social fabric.

"It's almost lunchtime. Let's talk about food. Who's hungry," asked Zaatari.

"For us, it is important that students learn about people who can be their neighbors, their friends at school, their teachers, their doctors, etc," Zaatari said.

But no doubt the most popular part of this day's program is the music

"We learned, like, a dance," said fourth grader Hannah Harper. 

"I really liked the music and dancing," said Elliot Waco, a fourth grader. 

"I really like the singing and dancing part. It was fun to see," said third grader Adare Lowell.

Something that connects these students to a culture they may never have seen before.

"Thank you so much. Wow, what a great audience," said Karim Nago, a performing and teaching artist. 

Even after the auditorium empties, the work continues. They offer these sessions to any Chicago public schools, even past Arab American Heritage Month in April. 

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