Education should be about more than learning your ABCs and solving math problems. That's the philosophy of the school connected to the Islamic Center of Naperville.
Principal Durdana Rahman says they are committed to the whole child.
"We want to make sure our kids are functioning members of society and are good citizens," Rahman says.
Classes are offered for 3- and 4-year-olds and kindergartners, with 20 children per class. The Islamic Center is on Ogden Avenue on the northeast side of the city. Rahman says there is always a waiting list, and the school would benefit from an expansion.
Arshiya Fayeedi is in her second year of teaching Islamic studies at the private school.
"I think it would be awesome for the kids," she says. "We only have three levels of grades now. Parents are constantly asking for higher grades."
Muniba Ali teaches kindergarten.
"I love working with children. I think they are the hope of the future," Ali says.
She and Fayeedi are proud of the emphasis the Islamic School places on values and strength of character.
"I think these are not called the formative years for no reason," Ali says.
"They are when we are forming all of our values and understanding people and the world around us," she says. "When I teach Islamic studies, I teach Islamic manners, ethics, respecting each other, avoiding jealousy, building character."
And, she says, it's a good place to help children understand that people can be different from them.
"Just be patient, know that what you are doing isn't necessarily wrong," Fayeedi says. "You can give them reasons for what you practice. But, we teach them to do that in a peaceful way. We want to make them proud of their faith."
She and Ali believe, if children are given the tools to use when confronted by bullying and racism at an older age, they will feel more empowered.
"There is so much pressure in high school," Ali says. People says things like, "Why is your mom a towel head? Why don't you eat this? We have to prepare them to address issues in a way that isn't all defensive and all aggressive."
Overall, she says, she hasn't experienced a lot of discrimination or negativity from parents, administrators and teachers in any of the Naperville schools. But, as a parent, she knows first-hand that pre-teens and teens can be cruel.
"My children got a lot of: 'You're a terrorist,'" she says. "There are negative comments in the media. Kids will repeat what their parents say."
Religion, according to Ali, is about having the best manners, having the best interactions with each other. She says helping students know who they are is the main focus.
"It makes them stronger children," she says.
Fayeedi says she is a big fan of the Islamic school.
"It's a very nurturing atmosphere," she says. "We try to reinforce values parents teach at home. It caters to the children's academic needs, but also their social, emotional and spiritual well-being."
And, she says, most importantly, we teach children about their faith.
"I think the closer you are to God, the easier it is to win a child's heart," Fayeedi says. "It's a good way to start. We can all learn together.
"Isn't that the point of education, after all?"