October 10, 2020
Charlotte Islamic Academy: A Hidden Pearl Interfaith meetings like this provide Muslim students with great opportunities for dialog and understanding.

Charlotte Islamic Academy: A Hidden Pearl

By Dorene Alama

Charlotte Islamic Acadamy8:00 A.M. –  Mini-vans, SUVs, and smaller cars are already lining up in the parking lot in preparation of entrusting their most precious cargo into the hands of the staff and faculty at Charlotte Islamic Academy.

8:15 A.M. –  Car doors slam, parents wish their children a “Good Day”, Mr. Keith Stringfellow and Ms. Mona Nasralla send smiles and salaams as they wave the cars through, and students seek out friends to giggle and to chat with before assembly starts. Once assembly begins, students recite Quran and hear inspirational words of advice before heading off to their classes.  It is beautiful to see the diversity of the students in assembly. Although most of the students were born in the USA; most of  their parents are from other countries such as Sudan, Syria, Bosnia, Palestine, Somalia, Turkey, the Philippines, Morocco, Pakistan, and others.

Second Grade Students show off one of their projects.
Second Grade Students show off one of their projects.

Some fortunate students are not in their classes as they will be on a field trip.  All the students from pre-school through grade twelve have the opportunity to experience educational outings to local and regional museums, plays, outdoor science activities, zoos, to travel Atlanta to the CNN Student News Center, Grandfather Mountain, the annual MIST (Muslim Interscholastic Tournament) in Atlanta, Fort Fischer in Wilmington, college tours, the North Carolina High School Mock Trial  and an interfaith visit to Catholic High School. Students will often help to fund-raise for their field trips which help them learn valuable team building skills, knowledge of finances, and the work it takes to organize outside activities.

8:30 A.M. – Teachers settle the students at their desks as the day’s lessons are about to begin. Sounds of Arabic lessons can be heard from one classroom, in another class students are watching a video about the American Civil War on the classroom SMART Board, in the Science Lab students are working on their experiments to get ready for the Regional Science Fair at UNCC, students are reciting Qur’an in another classroom with one of the two Sheiks that are part of the staff, and in one of the classes the students are busy writing essays on the school’s netbooks. Every day, students study the four core subjects in addition to Quran, Arabic, and Islamic Studies.  It is a rigorous curriculum that will enable students to navigate in our multicultural society and prepare them for the Hereafter.

Mock Trial
Second Grade Students show off one of their projects.

The teachers are always preparing valuable lessons that follow the North Carolina Department of Education and the Common Core Standards. The school is fortunate to have a well-qualified staff with two teachers with PHDs, six teachers that have Master’s Degrees, and six teachers with their teaching certifications. Teachers with these great credentials help the students prepare for the assessments they will take. The assessments include DiscoveryEd which is taken three to four times per year to help teachers and the students to monitor the students’ progress.  At the end of the year students will take the EOCs, EOGs, Terra Nova, and/or the AP English Exam.  Students in grades 9-12 will also take the PSATs and the SATs.

Charlotte Islamic Academy’s former students are now attending or have graduated from:  UNCC, Wingate University, Queens University, Chapel Hill, Michigan State University, NC State, CPCC, York Tech, and others. Several students have graduated from the university with double majors at the bachelor’s level, with their master degrees, or are pursuing professional schools such as pharmacy or law.

Winners from the CIA Poetry Slam competition.

11:00 A.M. – A burst of joyful sound and youthful energy is suddenly present in the peaceful outdoors as the students in grades 1-6 start the recess and lunch periods.  Of course, this is one of their cherished times of the day. They will participate in organized games such as soccer matches, competitive kickball games, shoot some basketballs, perhaps take a walk on the nature trail down to the creek or have free play.  Students in grades 7-12 will have gym starting at 11:45 for more than half an hour daily. Each gender will have their own gym time. The girls feel free to kick around their soccer ball with as much vigor and screaming as the boys do when they are on the soccer field.

1:15 P.M. – “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” The sweetest words of the day as the Call to Prayer commences.  Students and staff gather to remember God for the second of the five prayers of the day. This is the heart and soul time for the school.  It binds the students and staff together and reminds everyone why they are here.  After leaving salat (prayer), there is a calmness in the air.

3:25 P.M. – Dismissal Time. Some of the students jump from the outside benches when they see their care ride in the line. Other students eagerly run out from their classrooms to the vehicles awaiting to take them home.  Some students and families will stay after school today for the Poetry Slam Competition being held for grades 3-12. It is just one of the events held throughout the year. Some of the others are the Quran Competition, the Hajj Program, the English Spelling Bee, the Arabic Spelling Bee, and the two Book Fairs. These events allow students to showcase their Arabic language skills and Islamic knowledge, along with public speaking abilities.

Skype with Rowandan students
Communication with other schools around the world connects CIA students with the global society in ways that they cannot get in public school.

3:50 P.M. – “All teachers will meet now in the lunchroom.” The day is not yet finished for the teachers.  Every day after school the teachers meet with Principal Lamti to review the day’s events.  Today’s discussion is of a more serious nature. Even though the school has been in existence since 2007 and is accredited nationally by AdvancED; it still faces many challenges. Some of these include ongoing financial issues, negative community perceptions which leads to less financial and volunteer support, real estate autonomy, low high school enrollment, competitive salaries & benefits packages for staff, and specialized staff for students with special needs. The staff and school board brainstorm continuously how to approach these issues.

 But, at the end of the day, teachers and staff and parents and students raise their hands to God and thank Him for the blessings he has given to the school. Despite all obstacles, Allah has bestowed Charlotte with an educational pearl that all area Muslims can access if they are just willing to come and open up the clam.

Visit Charlotte Islamic Academy online at: ciacademy.us

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