Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Islamic Academy in Virginia Enrolls 950 Students from 28 Countries

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Islamic Academy in Virginia Enrolls 950 Students from 28 Countries

Article excerpt

A traditional red-brick school building in Alexandria, VA houses an unconventional institution, the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA). With 950 students from 28 different countries presently enrolled, the academy combines the Fairfax County curriculum with a Saudi Arabian curriculum of Arabic and Islamic studies.

Established by the Saudi government in 1984, ISA provides an educational alternative primarily for national capital area Saudis, and for US and foreign citizens who desire a more Islamic education for their children. Admission is not restricted to Muslim and Arab children. The academy's headmaster, Dr. Saad Al-Adwani of Saudi Arabia, said that many American families with neither ethnic nor religious ties to the Middle East enroll their children in the school because of its "drug-free, problem-free" environment.

Separate Schools For Boys and Girls

ISA comprises, at the upper grade levels, a boys' and a girls' school administered individually and off-limits to students of the opposite gender. Mai Dahmas, a 15-year-old junior who attended public schools before enrolling at ISA, said she likes not having boys in her class because she finds them "an added distraction." Dahmas also said that being at ISA allows her the opportunity to pray in school.

Academy classes range from pre-kinder-garten through high school. Walls of the lower grade classrooms are covered with brightly colored, bilingual visual aides, including Walt Disney and Sesame Street characters. Facilities for upper grades include elaborate science labs, two gymnasiums, Arabic and English language labs, computer labs and a mosque.

The academy, which boasts a relatively low student/teacher ratio of 9:1, was recently accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS). It is guided by a board of trustees chaired by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, whose children are enrolled in the school.

ISA employs an in-house educational consulting firm to help tailor courses to the special academic needs of its students. These include English as a Second Language (ESL) and Arabic as a Second Language (ASL). ISA hosts regular science fairs, an annual heritage day and an open house, all of which generate parent involvement.

ISA graduated its first class of 22 seniors in June 1990. An academic counselor at ISA makes sure that seniors have secured college admission before they graduate from high school. …

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