Prince George's County, Maryland will be home to a new Islamic elementary school with Hifdh integration this fall. The team behind ILM Tree Academy held a town hall meeting at the Greenbelt Library on February 16, 2013 for interested families and educators.
40-50 individuals attend the event; which lasts 3 hours, between the presentation and questions. Yusuf Khan, a frequent Khateeb and Lecturer on Islamic subjects in the Washington DC metro, is a team leader for this endeavor. After Quran recitation by Hasan Khan and Yusuf , Khan led the group through the plan and vision for ILM Tree Academy.
Yusuf Khan (top) and his son Hasan (bottom) both present at the open house.
Yusuf Khan announced the school will be located in the Prince George's Muslim Association facilities. Being at PGMA will allow the children to have early exposure to the masjid, to pray with adults. PGMA already has a computer lab, a soccer field, a playground and is close to the MARC station.
The school does not plan to offer a kindergarten class as Al- Nur Montessori at PGMA already offers both kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. The team has applied for certification in the state of Maryland. Some parents in the audience ask about accreditation. Khan says that accreditation is a long process and an eventual goal.
ILM Tree Academy plans "to impart quality Islamic and academic education that adheres to the Qur’an and Sunnah, and aims to develop future Muslim leaders who will serve as ambassadors of Islam through knowledge, character and community involvement."
In the works is a modern curriculum which aligns with National and State standards including the adoption of Common Core State Standards in Language Arts, Mathematics, History, and Science and incorporation of hands-on learning approaches in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The school hopes to have laptops and tablets for students.
The team aims to teach Islamic Studies in Fusha (Classical Arabic) so the students can develop Arabic fluency by the time they graduate."We have not seen this anywhere in the DMV area," says Khan. Tata Kallam Arabiya and Studio Arabiya are two options for a curriculum that the ILM Tree Academy is exploring.
Hifdh and Islamic Studies will be mandatory, and because of this school timings will be from 8:00 in the morning to 4:00 p.m. "Many students have to give up academics to complete their hifdh," says Khan, "we are in agreement that children should attempt to do Hifdh according to their ability; this will form the foundation of their education." Schools with similar hifdh integration have successfully launched in Illinois and Texas. Class will be co-ed for Grade 1-4. The representative from PGMA said that partitions are in place for use if the need arises. They plan on keeping a low student-teacher ratio to allow for individualized attention. "We will open up another section but will not compromise on class size," says Khan.
Mariam Alou is a young mother who moved from the Bay Area. Her 4 year old attends the ICCL pre-school in Laurel. She expressed concern over with the level of quality education that would be provided by ILM Tree. "Many times schools are opened, but they are not sustainable and close down," she said.
Parents know their children's needs the best and will have a voice in the school. "We live in this area; we are parents of [school age] children and have vested interest in staying in P.G. County," says Ateya Arozullah. A mother of a ten year old, she holds a Master’s degree in Education from Johns Hopkins University and will be heading academics at ILM Tree. She also possesses an Advanced Professional Teaching Certification in the State of Maryland. Ateya has previously served as Lead Teacher at Al Rahmah School in Baltimore, Maryland and is currently a senior Biology Teacher at Paint Branch High School.
As she has worked in both environments and has exposure to homeschooling philosophies as well, Arozullah says the team has picked the best elements of all three educational models. " This will be a parent-run school with family-oriented programs and perspectives." Centered around the theme that it takes a village to raise a child, the team envisions that the parents of students will volunteer certain hours in the school.
"We want to develop, with tarbiyyah and dawah, well-rounded students, who are not isolated from the larger community while retaining their Muslim identity," says Arozullah. She relays her experience of meeting many children who attend Islamic school and do not know how to handle being in the real world.
At this point, the school does not plan on offering any financial aid but is planning to accumulate a scholarship fund for bright and deserving students by initiating a benefactor program. Registration for the fall semester has begun. Many parents with older children in the audience wonder if there are options for middle and high schoolers.
Fa'iza Al-Warith is on the Southern PG County Charter School Planning Committee. She is currently gathering signatures to gauge interest in the Academy of Scholars, another educational project started for Prince George's County. She believes that a Southern Prince George’s County STEM-based Charter School will fill a long-standing need in the community for an alternative to traditional public education. Academy of Scholars is planning to offer two foreign languages Arabic and Spanish. The plan is to start a middle school, grades 6 and 7, and then to add a grade each year. With these two initiatives, Muslim parents in Prince George's County have two new options for the educational and spiritual nourishment of their children.