CUYAHOGA FALLS: Sarah Spencer is gaining a global perspective from her kindergarten, first- and second-grade students.
“I come to school to teach them, but sometimes they actually teach me lessons,” said Spencer, of Kent, who teaches language arts at Faith Islamic Academy. “One time we were talking about Italy and I asked one of my students to tell us what it’s like because she’s been there and I haven’t — and she’s 5 [years old]. It’s amazing how much the students here know about the global community.”
Much of that knowledge comes from being part of a faith community where people trace their roots to at least five continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. The 80 students enrolled at the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school, located at the Islamic Community Center, 152 E. Steels Corners Road, are all part of the community known as the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent.
Although the entire student body is Muslim, like other faith-based schools, Faith Islamic Academy accepts students of all backgrounds. Some of the current students are from interfaith families. Three of the school’s 12 employees are non-Muslim.
Faith Islamic Academy opened in 2002. It says its mission is to provide a quality education while helping students develop strong character and self-esteem and knowledge of Islam.
The local school is certified by the state and affiliated with the Islamic Schools League of America, a nonprofit organization that connects Muslim educators and institutions. The Okemos, Mich.-based agency estimates that more than 40,000 students are enrolled in Islamic schools in the United States. That number represents a 25 percent increase from 2006 and is expected to grow as schools open or expand.
“Our goal is to nurture the whole child. Academics are the main focus, but we work to meet the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of each student,” said Faheem Shaikh, chairman of the school’s board of education. “The Islamic values that we teach are universal values — honesty, integrity, respect for others — and we expect our staff and faculty to be positive role models who lead the children by example.”
Shaikh, who also serves as the education director of the Cuyahoga Falls-based community, emphasized that the school teaches Islam within the American context by using a curriculum that is compatible with American culture and society. His three children are enrolled in kindergarten, second grade and seventh grade at Faith Islamic Academy.
“We are American and we are Muslim. We integrate religious studies with secular studies,” said Shaikh of Streetsboro. “While we help shape the identities of our Muslim students, we promote respect for diversity and give the children the tools they will need to be productive citizens in American society.”
Faith Islamic Academy’s curriculum includes the language arts, math, science, social studies, computer studies, Islamic studies and Quran (Islam’s holy book) and Arabic (the language in which the Quran is scripted).
The school’s religious education curriculum includes the study of the five major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.
Karen Lamadanie, who teaches social studies in grades 4-8, said that while teaching the tenets of each faith, teachers also emphasize shared values. Lamadanie of Hartville has taught at the school for five years.
“One of the things I like about teaching here is that we have some freedom to be creative and flexible, as long as we follow the state standards. That gives us a better opportunity to meet the needs of each student,” Lamadanie said. “The faith component is huge, the students get to pray with their peers on a daily basis and we talk about values, manners and God.”
Parents happy with choice
Dr. Ahmad Jadallah, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, said the school’s commitment to religious education was a primary factor in the decision to send his four children to Faith Islamic Academy. The Youngstown native attended Catholic schools most of his life and said he wants his children to benefit from an education that helps instill self-discipline and a faith-based values system.
“Even though I was Muslim, I attended Mass, and it reinforced the values that my parents taught me at home,” Jadallah said. “Attending Faith Islamic Academy is no different than attending any other religious school, and teaching about religion and values does not deter from the quality of education that is provided.”
Jadallah’s children are enrolled in preschool, second grade and fifth grade. An eighth-grade daughter now enrolled in Hudson schools attended Faith Islamic Academy through seventh grade.
“She wanted to run track, so we agreed to let her go so that she could participate,” Jadallah said. “When she was tested at Hudson, they were very impressed with her academic ability and she placed in advanced math.”
Like Jadallah, Dr. Seemi Waheed, said she and her husband believe it is important to give their children a faith-based foundation. Waheed, of Copley Township, is a family practitioner. Her two daughters are in first and fifth grades.
“It’s always a plus to go through an educational system that corresponds with your own value system, and the elementary years are the time when children are forming their value system,” Waheed said. “It’s also nice to have your children in an environment that helps develop a positive self-identity while teaching the importance of accepting and respecting others.”
Abla Jwayyed, who teaches language arts in grades 4-8, said the school staff is like a family that is committed to helping students assimilate into society without having to compromise their identity.
“I can teach English anywhere, but I like teaching literature and being able to integrate the Islamic perspective, which helps students learn to apply their faith,” said Jwayyed, whose children are enrolled in fifth and eighth grade at the school. “Everyone here does the best job they can to make sure our students succeed.”
Plenty to offer
Faith Islamic Academy students typically have higher standardized test scores than the state average. The school offers an accelerated phonics program and a redesigned, updated computer lab.
Students are encouraged to read via biweekly trips to the Akron-Summit County Public Library. All students attend daily prayer and are dismissed early on Friday for weekly prayer. The school uses the Islamic Community Center’s 13-acre outdoor recreational facility for a multi-sport physical education program.
The school also offers some intramural sports opportunities and a variety of special learning programs. Those include Quran competition, Islamic trivia night, a character development program, literature circles, a role model initiative, a spelling bee, science fairs and family math night.
Tuition for members of the local Islamic community is $3,300 per year for kindergarten through eighth grade and $4,200 for pre-kindergarten. For nonmembers, the cost is $5,000 per student. Scholarship money is available, and EdChoice vouchers are accepted.
Fauzia Nazir, who has served as principal for the last five years, said the school is comparable to other area parochial schools. She described the staff as professionally trained and well educated and said the low student/teacher ratio allows for individualized attention.
“When our students graduate, they are well equipped to go to any high school. We are constantly looking at our curriculum and consulting with other educators to make improvements that will benefit our students,” said Nazir, whose son and daughter are enrolled at the school in second grade and kindergarten, respectively. “We are also fortunate to have a diverse population of students — we really are a small United Nations — that lends itself to peer-to-peer learning experiences.”
Future plans for the school, which could be five to 10 years down the road, include expanding to include a high school.
Fore more information, go to www.faithislamicacademy.org or call 330-926-9407.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org