By Adil James, MMNS
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Dearborn–May 26–Perhaps what is most interesting about the Global Education Excellence (GEE) Alumni event, the â€œAlumni Association Dinner,â€ last Sunday afternoon at Bint Jebail in Dearborn is the very fact of its happening. In order to make other alumni available to one another, the GEE leadership started this alumni dinner and celebration–and it is a reflection of the organizationâ€™s burgeoning nature that hundreds of enthusiastic students and faculty attended the dinner.
GEE is a growing body of charter schools, based in Ohio and Michigan, which through its graduates has already begun to make its mark in the nationâ€™s universities, with at least one graduate has been accepted by the single most prestigious American university, Harvard–although that student (who spoke at the Alumni event) has elected to go to the University of Michigan Ann Arbor instead.
The three schools that participated in the alumni event are the only high schools in the GEE family, namely Riverside in Dearborn, Frontier in Hamtramck, and Central, in Ann Arbor.
GEE is a network of charter schools that was previously examined by The Muslim Observer in November of 2008 in the context of its local school, the Riverside Academy.
Riverside Academy is the school that once was the American Islamic Academy–an Islamic school which was associated with the Islamic Institute of Knowledge, one of Dearbornâ€™s largest mosques.
After it suffered financial difficulties the American Islamic Academy closed its doors, and the building is now inhabited by a charter school which cannot teach religious subjects but which still is amenable to Muslim and Arab students, in that it has maintained a policy of teaching boys and girls separately, so that, in the words of Riverside principal Ramzi Saab, â€œso that students focus on academics.â€
Central and Frontier, however, do not have separate classes for boys and girls, and this may be a reflection of the more conservative population in Dearborn as compared with Ann Arbor or even Hamtramck.
Other positive aspects of Riverside include its making the Arabic language available to students. This is a characteristic that also is carried by the other two GEE high schools, Central and Frontier.
All three high schools also have a uniform requirement, which also distinguishes them from area public schools.
Since the TMO article from November of 2008, the Riverside Academy has taken large strides, marked especially by the fantastic success of the 2010 graduate Wafa Algahmi, whose parents are of Yemeni origin, who received a stellar 35 on her ACT, and who was accepted to Harvard University. Due to the distance, she instead has declared her intention to attend the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
Hajja Khalida Beydoun, a guidance counselor at Riverside Academy, explained that in fact this year had been very successful for Riverside graduates, with many of them receiving scholarships from local Michigan schools. Once again in my interview (as before a year and a half ago) she rattled off from memory the successes of her students in a staccato style, betraying her deep commitment to her students.
â€œMasha`Allah, overall 33 seniors are graduating this year. Out of 33, 17 were dual enrolled at Henry Ford Community College, with at least 20 college credits paid for under the school.â€
â€œThree are going to University of Michigan Dearborn, one on scholarship, one is going to ITT Technical Institute, on a scholarship, another is attending Eastern Michigan University–no scholarship there,â€ she says sadly.
â€œOne is attending Central Michigan, on a partial scholarship.â€
â€œOur seniors received numerous scholarships per student.â€
One new milestone, she explains, is that â€œthis year five of our students, are going on a trip to Jordan. They have to have at least a 3.5 GPA and excellent behavior.â€ The trip will be in June and July, and is sponsored in part by GEE and in part by Michigan State University, which maintains an affiliate relationship with a high school in Jordan. â€œThatâ€™s why theyâ€™re sponsoring it over there,â€ Ms. Beydoun explained.
â€œWe have five young ladies, Muslim, with GPAâ€™s of 3.95 or higher, dual enrolled at Henry Ford Community College,â€ going on the trip to Jordan, Ms. Beydoun said.
An indication of the GEE high schoolâ€™s cooperation, the GEE high schools have planned their graduation ceremonies to occur without conflicting, so that people can attend more than one.
The Alumni Associationâ€™s mission is â€œto establish lifelong connections between GEE Academies and its alumni for continued growth of the Academies and its alumni.â€
Ms. Beydoun explained that â€œthis [alumni dinner] was a good event for GEE, something the charter schools needed,â€ pointing out that other high schools have alumni promotion events.
The event itself began with a beautiful Bint Jebail dinner, followed by a welcome from Ms. Debrah Davidson and Ms. Karey Reed; Mr. Mohamad Issa, GEE Director, gave an introduction to the Alumni Association, and there were speeches by GEE principals Dr. Luay Shalabi, Dr. Harun Rashid, Mr. Ramzi Saab. There were speeches by graduates of three of the GEE schools, Central Academy, by Class of 2010â€™s Fabiha Khan and alumnus Mohamad Issa (no relation); Frontier International Academyâ€™s 2010 grad Sumaia Rahman spoke, followed by alumnus Enas Musleh; Riverside Academy West 2010 grad Wafa Algahmi spoke, followed by her sister, alumna Amal Algahmi. Finally there was a speech by Dr. Said Issa–Associate Director of GEE.
Dr. Mohamad Issa, Director of GEE, began by saying that â€œThis meeting has been 10 years in the making,â€ emphasizing that the whole adventure of GEE had begun on a much smaller scale. He said â€œThis is the start of something bigger,â€ and he emphasized that GEE is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. He emphasized that GEE would be providing scholarships to graduated students and would be sponsoring more reunions and other events.
The many students and alumni who spoke seemed to agree on the common theme that they felt individually recognized at the GEE schools, and felt individually encouraged by the faculty and staff of those schools. They recognized that perhaps the schools did not have the same resources as some public schools–nevertheless the students and alumni seemed to have genuine affection for the GEE schools.
Fabiha Khan of Central mentioned a mantra taught by Dr. Shalabi, â€œThe choices you make today….â€ and the answer came from perhaps 50 current and former Central students laughing and saying loudly from their dinner chairs, â€œSHAPES YOUR WORLD TOMORROW!â€
It appears that the choice to attend GEE schools has shaped tomorrow in a positive direction for GEE students, and perhaps for the rest of the world as well.