School offers nurturing environment for Muslim kids

The Arizona Republic
Sept. 16, 2005


Betty Reid


The Arizona Cultures Academy was supposed to make a big splash in 2001 as a private school that met the needs of Muslim parents who wanted to raise their children with a strong faith in a non-Muslim society.

Then the tragic events of 9/11 stole the school's thunder, but it quietly opened and flourished. It has grown on the eastern edge of South Mountain, just off of Baseline Road, with its demand for excellence and hard work of its students in academic, Islamic and behavioral education.

The tiny campus is already making its mark at Valley academic contests such as the local Future Cities Competition. A group of students from the academy designed a "floating city" that would withstand a tsunami for this year's contest and won an award.

The Arizona Cultures Academy is one of several Islam-based schools in the Valley and growing at a quick pace. Its students come from all around the region and represent a number of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. What's important to them and their families is a solid education with a Muslim grounding.

The 5-acre campus caters to students such as Israa Alsayyed, who formerly attended a Valley elementary school in Peoria. The 10th-grader, who listens to alternative music and whose homeland is Palestine, felt out of place among friends and classmates.

She remembered peers who looked at her ritual fast as odd and chalked it up to a desire to stop eating.

"I like the way you don't have to deal with things teens go through," said Alsayyed. "Here (at Arizona Cultures), you are around your religion. Here, people are from the same religion as you."

Today the 15-year-old is a top student in a quiet and small learning environment. Alsayyed, who loves history, also receives more attention from teachers with her lessons. There are about 1.1 billion Muslims worldwide with an estimated 100,000 Muslims in the Valley.

"It's something like a private school for Catholics, and students here experience the Islam environment," explained Fawzia Tung, ACA principal/teacher.

The curriculum includes English and Arabic languages, a religion class, social studies, science, math, computer lessons and physical education. Sometimes students hike the vast South Mountain in their physical education class.

The pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school was financed and chartered by a group of Valley Muslims and opened its doors in August 2001. It gained its standing with the North Central Association and the Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement and costs $6,000 annually per student.

Principal Tung said she knows of many parents of students like Alsayyed who share similar sentiments and experiences at public schools. Some have complained about a lack of space and privacy to pray on public school property or felt too ashamed to pray.

The Arizona Cultures Academy added 50 new students in August to bring its enrollment to 150.

Tung, a native of Taiwan who graduated from the Faculty of Medicine from the University of Jordan, brought her broad experience as an educator to the academy in 2002. For more information, call (602) 454-1222 or visit