Amana Academy opened as a first in Georgia, the first public elementary school to require students to learn Arabic.
Four years later, parents and administrators often downplay the foreign language instruction that initially distinguished the charter school from other public schools.
Instead, they emphasize the small classes, gender-separation in middle grades and a curriculum that focuses on hands-on learning.
Since opening in 2005, Amana has emerged as an academic success story among charter schools.
It has grown yearly in enrollment, with a current waiting list for kindergarten, and posts student test scores that compete with other high-performing schools in north Fulton County, according to state Department of Education data. The now 460-student school expanded into the middle grades two years ago, said Shuaib Hanief, interim executive director, which allowed administrators to separate boys and girls in middle school classrooms.
The growing school relocated from Roswell to Main Street in Alpharetta, occupying a former supermarket space that had served as a temporary home for Kings Ridge Christian School. The 53,000-square-foot facility backs up to a city park, which the Amana Academy children use for physical education, Hanief said.
Four years after its founding, the school is among the most racially diverse in north Fulton. No one student group makes up a majority, according to a demographic report.
For parents, the attraction goes beyond the Arabic language instruction, Hanief said: "It's the quality of our education and our focus on stewardship."
Parents have turned to Amana for different reasons, said Tracy Blair, president of the PTA, and who has two children enrolled. Her son, a fifth-grader, and her daughter, a third-grader, both previously had attended traditional public schools in Fulton County.
Gender separation and more hands-on learning were what attracted Blair to the charter option. "As a parent, you know your children, they have different learning styles. He's a hands-on learner."
The school features "expeditionary learning," a curriculum that includes field-based learning that Blair said helps her son make connections. "He understands what the difference is, and he appreciates the difference," Blair said.
Arabic was a secondary consideration, she said. But Blair appreciates the distinction that she said comes with learning a language considered among the world's most challenging.
Although fluency in Arabic is increasingly essential for national security, few American schools offer the language.