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May 15, 2012

Reading, writing and Ramadan

Lawrence's Knowledge Academy aids area's young Muslims

LAWRENCE — In a suite of the 300,000-square-foot mill building, boys and girls are learning their ABCs, math and science, as well as Arabic and the Koran.

This is Knowledge Academy, a Muslim school where 65 American-born children whose parents come from Libya, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Iraq, Bangladesh, Somalia, Uganda, Colombia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Palestine are learning about their heritage.

“As a parent, I wanted a place where they get nurtured,” said Muhammad Abuzar of Salem, N.H., chairman of the school board.

“Here, they are getting a balance of Western and Eastern education and are getting closer to the culture.”

Knowledge Academy is a non-profit private school founded in Andover by Oya Bozkurt of Lawrence two years ago. It moved to Heritage Place last year when it outgrew the original facility.

She said there was a need to open the school.

“Here, they are in an Islamic environment where they learn Arabic and Islam along with other classes that can supplement that,” Bozkurt said.

“It helps them with their identity, so after they leave here, they can adjust to society.”

When you enter the school, there is a display with the phrases from the Koran, “God is one,” “God is great” and “May God protect us,” written in Arabic.

Female students wear the hijab, the Islamic women’s headdress, with their burgundy and navy uniform. Boys don burgundy shirts and navy blue pants.

The school has 10 teachers who follow the Massachusetts state standards. Areas of instruction include the Koran, Arabic, math, reading, language arts, dhuhr prayer, daily afternoon prayer, Islamic studies, science and social studies.

Claudia Juta of Methuen, who has three daughters at the school, is happy with the progress they are making. She said Sabreen, 3, can spell her name; Yasmine, 6, can read at a third-grade level; and Vanessa, 13, is more than ready for high school.

“It’s amazing how much they are learning. The education is phenomenal. I wouldn’t change it for anything,” said Juta, who is from Colombia and is married to Zakaria, who was born in Morocco.

Students in preschool to eighth grade come from Lawrence, Methuen, Salem and Pelham, N.H., and as far as Acton, Ayer, Burlington and Boston.

Abuzar, chairman of the board, said the students’ diverse backgrounds are an asset to the school. That was evident on Friday when the school hosted an international night featuring displays from countries where parents originate from and projects completed by the students.

Children in preschool and kindergarten sang and others spoke a few words in their native language.

Boys and girls paraded in traditional costumes from Uganda, India, Syria and Turkey. And a sampling of food was offered, from grape leaves to ceviche, a Spanish fish soup.

“It’s important to show others where you’re from,” said Fatma Mohed of North Andover as she explained the items she had on display representing Libya.

Bozkurt said the diversity is a welcome addition to the school.

“The cultural diversity helps students learn from each other. Everyone is a Muslim, but they see that others do things a little different and that makes it interesting,” Bozkurt said.  

Huod Mpaliga, who has two children at Knowledge Academy, agreed.

“They’re growing up in an environment with different religions, and as parents, we want them to learn how to worship and have a good relationship with others.”

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