At first glance, the Al-Falaq Academy, housed in three tidy classrooms of a former public elementary school, seems just like any other private school.
The 36 kindergarten, first- and second-graders wear green-and-white plaid uniforms and spend most of their time learning to read, write and do simple math problems.
But at 8:30 and 12:45 every day, when the students of the only Islamic school in the San Fernando Valley gather in the sparse, carpeted office to pray, the difference between this school and its counterparts becomes distinct.
All of the students remove their shoes and the girls put on hejab , or head coverings, as they kneel on evenly spaced marks facing Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In addition to the prayers, the students study the Arabic language and the teachings of Islam for an hour a day.
The school, which opened this month in West Hills, was started by leaders of the Islamic Center of Northridge. Community leaders estimate there are about 6,000 Muslims living in the Valley. While there are five full-time Islamic elementary schools in Southern California, the Al-Falaq Academy on Lockhurst Drive is the only one in the Valley.
The school began with three grade levels and four teachers, but organizers hope to add a grade level every year to the private school, which costs about $250 a month per child.
Anis Fathima, the principal and kindergarten teacher, said the school’s opening came at a crucial time.
“It’s a new venture for the Valley,” Fathima said. “It was in dire need.”
The Arabic teacher, Somaya Hamza, spends an hour a day in each classroom. She teaches the children the fundamentals of the Arabic language and reads stories from the Islamic tradition to them.
“I teach them manners like washing their hands before eating and taking off their shoes before praying,” said Hamza, who was born in Egypt and moved to the United States when she was 16. “They learn to say good morning, be cheerful, and understand that they can’t lie cheat or steal.”