Riverside Graduation Celebration at Bint Jebail Center

By Sadaf Ali, MMNS

Dearborn-January 25–Thousands of high school seniors are preparing for one of the most memorable events of their lives, graduation. But for Riverside Academy West’s graduating class of 2008, the event holds another honor because they are the first.

Approximately 50 teachers, parents and staff met Friday at The Bint Jebail Cultural Center for their first ever annual senior luncheon to honor the 12 students who this summer will be the first students to graduate from Riverside Academy West, located in Dearborn.

“Being the first graduating class is an honor because they put this class together for us. They knew how badly we wanted to graduate from Riverside,” said Rana Al-Khalil, who received a full scholarship from The University of Detroit Mercy to study pre-medicine.

According to Khalida Beydoun, Riverside’s guidance counselor, there almost was not a senior class this year.

“Because of the low count of students in the junior class, we were not sure if we were going to be able to have a senior class this year,” she said, “But since our junior students last year were doing such a great job with their academics, we decided it was a perfect opportunity to start with this class.”

“I’m hoping our first senior class becomes role models for future students, by volunteering and working in the community. I want them to be ambassadors for Riverside Academy West,” said Dr. Said Issa, Vice President of Global Educational Excellence (GEE), which provides management services to public school academies throughout the United States.

The charter school opened its doors to the community three years ago and offers grades six to 12. Because of the large Muslim population in the area, the school also has gender separated classes, says Beydoun.

The charter school movement began in the 1990s and has grown rapidly. Many charter schools are less than five years old. Most are small in size, serving fewer students and offering smaller class sizes than regular public schools. This school currently has 343 students.

“Having a smaller class gave us more one on one attention,” said Samira Sobh, who will also be attending The University of Detroit Mercy.

Despite the more focused attention, Sobh says it was still a lot of hard work.

“It wasn’t fun and games. It was a really long journey to get here,” she said.

Kyle Clark, another graduating senior, agrees.

“Hard work and dedication go a long way,” he said.

Riverside was also the only school in the community to have a student score a 30 on the ACT– which doesn’t surprise the counselor.

“The dedication, hard work, and patience the teachers have with our students is breathtaking,” said Beydoun.

However, these results are generally atypical for a charter school, according to a 2003 study conducted by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

That study compared academic achievement for students enrolled in charter schools to that for students enrolled in traditional public schools and found that students in charter schools performed lower on average in reading and mathematics then those in traditional public schools.

But Beydoun adds that many of Riverside’s students are over achievers, with students taking college courses at the local community colleges. Because of this she has high hopes for the students, as well as, the school.

“The hope for our school is to become one of the best schools in the community… [for] future generations to come in the proper path–education. To instill in them all the necessary tools they need to become leaders of our future. To take all the experiences they encountered at our school and apply them in their future whether it is college, university, work force, or families. To empower them to the best of our abilities not only in education, but in becoming overall the best they can be in life.”

For more information about Riverside Academy West, contact Principal Ramzi Saab at (313) 945-8950.


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