November 28, 2009
Valerie Zehl neighbors: Johnson City Islamic school growing fast
39 children enrolled at The Crescent Academy.
Danyal wants to be a baseball player. Sarrah hopes to be a truck driver. And Aisha? "A cop."
Such are the hand-printed aspirations of three little students at The Crescent Academy in Johnson City.
The school is unique in Greater Binghamton because its goal is to deliver a high-quality, well-rounded education while instilling the tenets of Islam deep into the children's hearts.
In December 2005, the school was nothing more than a dream. By February of '06, the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier purchased a building. In the fast-paced months that followed, Romineh Dawood-Sethi -- then with two smallfry and a newborn of her own -- became TCA's first principal, opening the private school that September.
Now, 39 children attend pre-K through third grade there, representing families from India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad, Sudan, Iran, Turkey and elsewhere.
As the school's Web site, thecrescentacademy.org, specifies, the students study regular academic subjects in context of the guidelines provided by the Education Department of the State of New York, with Arabic, Urdu and Spanish offered as foreign languages -- as well as classes in Islamic Studies and Qur'an.
For Ramadan, the little ones helped with a food drive for CHOW, the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse, so they could put into action what they'd been learning about their faith, Romineh explains.
Of the school's four state-certified teachers, only one is Muslim. Janelle Smith was a substitute in the Binghamton schools, but came here because she enjoys teaching in small, diverse classrooms and appreciates the generous involvement on the part of the students' parents.
Christina Muscatello, of Binghamton, doesn't even get paid for the time she spends doing art with the children. She volunteers simply because she enjoys the environment, she explains.
With pizza for lunch in one room and Arabic letters on the wall in another, the school is a good metaphor for living as a Muslim in America, Romineh explains.
"There doesn't have to be a distinction between being Muslim and being American," she says. "There's no distinction -- it's about having good values."
When the little ones heard about the shootings at Fort Hood, they were saddened, explains current Principal Mohamed S. Khan. But when they learned the accused was a Muslim, they were horrified and confused.
"They couldn't understand (it)," he says. "They know Muslims are not supposed to kill innocent people."
And so The Crescent Academy -- whose motto is "Lighting the path to success" -- tries to teach its students everything they need to know, including how to use their minds and hearts to help the world become a better place.
* The Apalachin Lions Club reports that although Santa is very busy this time of year, they've persuaded him to take phone calls for three nights in early December. Santa has been happy to do this for the children in the area for many years and is looking forward to again talking to his many young friends so he will know what they want for Christmas, they explain. To talk to Santa, call (607) 625-HOHO (625-4646) between 6 and 8 p.m. Dec. 7, 8 or 9.
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