By Staff report
Abeer Saleh of the Muslim Community Center Academy told students on the first day of classes Monday that they were about to witness “an epic moment” — the opening of the first Islamic high school in Morton Grove and the region.
Seated in the large gym, the students played competitive rounds of rock-paper-scissors before they were dismissed to their homerooms for the first time. Minutes later, they stood outside the school, watching as administrators, teachers, students and village dignitaries cut a red ribbon signaling the opening of the MCC Academy College Prep high school.
“This is important because it helps to continue Islamic education for our students who already attend here and in the surrounding area,” said Saleh, the director of middle and high school. “There has been a need for a high school for a long time.”
Principal Habeeb Quadri said the new school is the first Islamic high school near the North Side of Chicago and in Morton Grove.
“What today shows is a relationship we’ve had for the last close to 30 years with the Morton Grove village,” Quadri said. “I want us to realize — especially the young ones — what relationships do and what patience does and how you can move forward.”
Quadri recalled that in 1989 when the building was first purchased, there were some concern from neighbors. The community, in a referendum, supported the MCC keeping the building, he said.
“When you speak to the community, people will buy in,” Quadri said.
The Morton Grove Village Board this year approved changing the MCC Academy’s special use permit, which originally restricted the school to students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
And what also paved the way for the MCC Academy’s expansion was an earlier change in enrollment at the school, officials said.
The MCC Academy purchased an abandoned school in Skokie owned by Skokie School District 68 and transferred its pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students there, leaving the original school for middle school kids. This year, it transferred sixth graders to the Skokie school.
Officials said these changes provided the space for a high school.
But MCC Academy leaders said they are moving slowly, expecting to phase in more high school classes in subsequent years.
For the 2018-2019 school year, they said, the school will educate only 11 freshmen and are limited to 25 students under the new special use permit.
Then, as those students advance to their sophomore year next academic year, up to 25 new students will come in as freshmen. In four years, MCCA College Prep will have all four high school years in place under this plan, Quadri said.
“We really, really are proud of our diversity here in Morton Grove,” Morton Grove mayor Dan Di Maria said at the ribbon-cutting Monday. “It’s just been such a joy for us to watch this school grow and come from almost nothing, really.”
Prior to opening of the high school, the Morton Grove school had 169 students — 129 in junior high and 40 students in the Hifz program, officials said.
The peak enrollment under the new plan is likely to be 240 students once all four high school years are in place. Staff levels are expected to increase from 25 to a maximum of 30 at any given time, school officials said.
The new MCCA College Prep will offer a dual-credit program for students, in partnership with Oakton Community College, school officials said.
“Beginning their junior year, students will take many courses at Oakton Community College that will satisfy both high school graduation requirements and, at the same time, will give each student actual credit toward a future college degree,” according to school officials.
Officials say high school tuition this school year is $7,500.
Tuition for students in lower grades range from $4,800 for pre-K to $7,105 for fourth to eighth grade, according to the MCCA website.
School leaders say the curriculum follows Illinois State Board of Education recommended standards. Also, students will be offered Arabic language coursework — as this is the language of the Quran, Islam’s holy book — and they will take classes focused on developing their knowledge and practical understanding of the faith, with an emphasis on community service.
The timing for the new high school couldn’t be better for some like Minhaj Fatima’s family, she said.
Fatima said she has a daughter who is attending ninth grade this year, one of the 11 inaugural high school students who will break in MCCA College Prep.
“We’ve been waiting for this for four years now,” Fatima said. “We want our kids to be raised in an Islamic environment — especially through high school. I went to Niles North myself so I’ve seen the difference between the schools.”
Fatima said she has three more children she hopes will follow her daughter into high school.
Another new freshman, Sami Ahmed, read from the Quran to begin Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Quadri said Ahmed has taken a few years to memorize all of the Quran — 6,000 verses in Arabic.
“You realize for him to do that and still keep his academic requirements is a very amazing task,” he said.
Kaman Hussain, MCC Academy board president, gave credit to the previous administration and to Quadri for making the new high school a reality.
“Getting the building in Skokie really kind of led to the changes that could happen,” he said. “Once the building in Skokie came, it allowed us to expand further so we were able to create this high school. I know this is a dream for many people for many years.”
Original Source: Chicago Tribune.