At the top elementary school in Hamilton, students participate in spelling bees in English, Arabic and French.
Each year, they hold a Qur'an contest, when students sing verses from the holy text from memory.
Next week, on March 14 — 3.14 — the school will hold a contest to see which student can list the most numbers of pi.
At the Islamic School of Hamilton, a private school for students from preschool to Grade 8, learning is both a way of life and a divine calling.
"When it comes to the tenets of Islam, one of the things that's emphasized the most is gaining knowledge," said Sabeeha Quader, who teaches math and science to Grades 6, 7 and 8.
"One of the things that the Prophet Muhammad said was to go as far as China to learn — meaning go far distances to learn, expand your knowledge, know about the world."
The Islamic School of Hamilton achieved the highest marks of all elementary schools in the city on the province's Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) testing.
EQAO scores for every school in Hamilton, which are compiled and ranked by the Fraser Institute, were released last week.
Students at the Islamic School achieved nearly perfect scores on the standardized tests: students in Grade 3 scored 82 per cent in reading and 100 per cent in writing and math, while those in Grade 6 scored 70 per cent in math and 100 per cent in reading and writing.
At the Islamic School, students learn the Ontario curriculum as well as three 40-minute sessions a week in Arabic, Islamic studies and the Qur'an. Its 165 students are divided into one class per grade.
The EQAO scores are the result of months and years of hard work, said principal Yousef Kfaween.
The school, housed in a small building next to the Hamilton Mountain Mosque on Stone Church Road, places a strong emphasis on academic excellence and takes preparations for EQAO testing very seriously. There are practice tests, lessons on EQAO material, and an information night for parents whose children will write the exam.
"It's a lot of work," Kfaween said. "EQAO starts from junior kindergarten. The preparation is years before they get to Grade 3."
School staff say the tightly knit community also plays a role in its success. The limitations of the school building — until 1998, it was used as a community centre affiliated with the mosque — keeps class sizes low. This helps teachers pinpoint which students need extra help and gets them the early intervention they need.
"We want their foundation to be strong — because if their foundation is not strong, they're not going to achieve once they get into the higher grades," said Samira Hattingh, the school's vice-principal and Grade 1 teacher.
The school also offers extracurricular groups — volleyball, drama, public speaking and even a crochet club.
But the school faces challenges. It receives no public funding and instead relies on tuition ($325 per month for children in Grades 1 to 8) and fundraising. Money for resources, especially technology, is tight (though the school has just added iPads in two classrooms to keep up with the public school's tablet rollout).
The school is hoping to come up with a five-year plan to expand the building. Currently, it has a waiting list that could fill an additional two classes of students.
"Our mission in the school is to achieve excellence," Kfaween said. "We want to ensure we create Canadian citizens who are productive and working toward improving the city, and helping others as well."