Ahlul Bayt Islamic School Ranked Second Best in CityWritten by Chelby Daigle
Each year the Simon Fraser Institute ranks Ontario schools based on their performance on the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) standardized tests for reading, writing and math. Ottawa's Ahlul Bayt Islamic School came in as the second best elementary school in Ottawa and among the top 100 in the province for its Grade 3 and Grade 6 scores from 2012 to 2013. This comes as no surprise to Ahlul Bayt's principal Leila Rahal. “Every year we receive very good results but the Institute only ranks schools that have classes of over 15 students. We don't always have that,” she explained. Mrs. Rahal credits the school's success to strictly following the Canadian curriculum and having the majority of its teachers being graduates of Ontario Teachers' Colleges.
Nestled in an old Vanier neighbourhood in Ottawa's East End, the school began in 2000 to meet the needs of a growing Lebanese Twelver Shi'a Muslim community but has over the years become more ethno-culturally diverse with growing numbers of Iraqi and Afghan Twelver Shi'a Muslim students, as well as small numbers of Sunni Muslim students from Gatineau.
Suzanne Zeidan, a Grade 5 and 6 Language Arts and Social Studies teacher who has taught at the school for eight years, explained that it does take a lot of work on the part of students and teachers to follow the Canadian curriculum as well as include additional classes in Arabic and Islamic Studies. “You will find that our Language Arts and Social Studies are exactly what you find in the public system but a bit more advanced for our students,” she explained. This includes ensuring that students learn about Canada's Aboriginal communities, which last year involved a speaker from Canada's First Nations communities coming into the school to discuss the impact of Residential Schools. Mrs. Zeidan teaches students about the Canadian government and annually takes her students on a trip to visit the Parliament buildings to see how the country is run. She also stresses that the school provides a lot of professional development opportunities for its teachers so that they can expand their teaching skills. This includes encouraging teachers to participate in programs run by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario during the summer.
Although not obvious when you first enter the school as the teachers follow a dress code that includes hijab (headscarf), almost half of the school's teachers are not Muslim. Marta Milke has been teaching at Ahlul Bayt for four years and found its small class sizes a good fit as a recent Teachers' College graduate. Having grown up in multicultural Scarbourgh, it was not too difficult for her to adjust to teaching at Ahlul Bayt as the administration was supportive of her as she learned to navigate her way through an Islamic environment. In comparison to other schools she has taught at, she would say that the small class sizes not only support academic success but have created an atmosphere of “camaraderie” at the school as most students know each other and “back each other up.”
Fatme Haidoura, who heads up the school's Islamic Studies department, is also one of the school's founders. She has watched with pride as the school evolved from a Saturday School to a full-day elementary and high school. She emphasizes the importance of allowing the students to maintain their Muslim identity as well as understanding and feeling comfortable in their Canadian identity. “Even in my Islamic studies class, when we talk about human rights, I always show my students my appreciation for living in Canada because here we have respect for our rights and even if you are a poor person there are people who will help you. It is a very good system. It is actually a very Islamic system.”
Zayna Youssef Awada, now in Grade 7, has attended the school since senior kindergarten. “You can't find a school like this,” Ms. Awada stated. She shared that in Grade 5 she tried to go to public school but came back after a week because she didn't feel challenged enough. Fatima Beydoun, a Grade 10 student who is also the school's Student Council President, is particularly pleased with the EQAO results. “Now everyone can see that we are a great school,” she said. When asked what she appreciates most about the school, Fatma shared that “I don't have to be afraid to express what I am here. I can be whatever I want to be here. I can be Muslim and Canadian.”
To learn more about Ahlul Bayt Islamic School visit http://abischool.com
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