Salah Tawfik Elementary and Middle School in Sunrise opened its doors in August at a new campus near where Commercial Boulevard meets the Sawgrass Expressway.
The Islamic school, at 10250 NW 53rd St., was once housed in a warehouse-type building nearby, but now has its own Mediterranean-style building on 11.5 acres, complete with a dozen classrooms, a mosque, cafeteria, media center and computer room.
Not only do the 150 students have a new school to attend, but they also are being lead by a new principal -- Lori Kijanka, known to all as "Dr. Lori."
Kijanka, a Roman Catholic, dons the traditional Islamic head scarf, or hijab, because it is part of the school uniform for female students. She said she is met with surprise when non-Muslims hear of her school assignment.
"It's amazing how some people close their minds and they have stereotypes and they pre-judge," Kijanka said in a phone interview. "I just really like the school; I see a lot of very, very pleasant, well-mannered, well-disciplined students and nice families."
Kijanka, who also teaches classes in multicultural and diversity issues for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and Davie, is working on getting Tawfik accredited by making sure the curriculum is in line with state standards.
Class size at Tawfik is limited to no more than eight students per teacher, allowing instruction to be tailored to the needs of individual students. The school welcomes students from all religions.
Kijanka compares her Catholic school education to what students at Tawfik receive.
Students wear khaki pants and polo shirts color-coded for grade. All Muslim girls cover their heads, but it is not required of non-Muslim girls. Also off-limits are makeup, earrings, perfume and most jewelry.
"We just don't want them focusing on those kinds of things. We want them focusing on their academics," Kijanka said.
Many students who move from Tawfik's K-8 program go into International Baccalaureate and special academic programs in area high schools, said Rabia Khan, dean of students, whose children go to the school.
"The way I envision this school is to give all of us the tools we need for survival in today's world," Khan said. "The challenges we face include a diverse community, each of which may have different expectations, so we are educating parents and students at the same time."
Khan said the curriculum instills Islamic values while also staying in step with secular curriculum. Islamic studies include Arabic language classes and study of the Koran.
Students are taught to become part of society at large, she said.
"It gives me the satisfaction that I am doing the right thing for my community and the hope that one day these children will grow up to be Americans and be able to communicate to the global community," she said. "They [cannot] be in isolation. After all, we share a community with all of the Abrahamic faiths who teach belief in the one God, and all of us are continuously struggling for the good."
Ateeqa Zaheer, 38, of Deerfield Beach, has three sons at Tawfik, one just leaving the school to enter secular high school.
She volunteers at the school and has done so since her now 17-year-old was in elementary school there.
"It's like my second home," Zaheer said, stressing the importance of an Islamic-based education for her children.
"It is very important because we want them to be religious and true Muslims, and here at the Islamic school they can come and recite Koran and pray in the afternoon, and keep the fast of Ramadan. In public school they cannot do that."
For information, call the school at 954-741-8130.