Crescent Academy International in Canton is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The private Islamic school serves children from 1 year old through 8th grade.
Pembe Yasarlar, the executive director of the academy, has been on the staff for 20 years — teaching elementary and middle school grades and serving as a vice principal before taking the helm in 2010.
She says when she joined the staff, Crescent Academy was in a field on the corner of Palmer and Lotz.
Listen: Pembe Yasarlar on the growth of Crescent Academy and what the school has learned during the pandemic.
Pembe Yasarlar, executive director of Crescent Academy International: There were cornfields not too far away and horse ranches. And it was really a very, seemingly very rural area. We would have prayer in a small prayer hall, the original prayer hall of the community and there would barely be like a row or two rows of people. We’re talking about 20 people, maybe. And now, just on a regular day we have close to 100-200 gathering for prayer five times a day. And on Fridays, we have like 2,000 people, pre-COVID, gathering for prayer. There’s an awful lot of energy, innovation and dynamic contributions happening here.
Sascha Raiyn, WDET: The school is called Crescent Academy International. What does the international refer to?
So, Crescent Academy International is an intentional name given to the school because we believe very strongly that everything begins with a recognition and remembrance that we we come from God and God created diversity in his creation. And the school itself, in terms of its demographics, represents every corner of the earth. The diversity here among the staff, the students, the community, is a representation of that coming together, that unifying reality of a faith-based life. And so international is foundational to our non-sectarian perspective on what Islam brings to any community it’s a part of.
“The school itself, in terms of its demographics, represents every corner of the earth. The diversity here among the staff, the students, the community, is a representation of that coming together, that unifying reality of a faith-based life.”— Pembe Yasarlar, Crescent Academy International
Public schools have gotten a lot of money, frankly, to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. What kind of funding was available to you as a private school?
So, as a private school funding was limited, but there were two primary streams. You could either go the route of having monies come in through grants from the state intended for education and schools. Or you could go the route of applying for the [Paycheck] Protection Program — the PPPs.
And so early on, we had actually signed on for one of the grants. This was in the summer. And the grant changed its definition of who could access monies. So we went ahead and we had purchased materials only to be told later on that we no longer qualified for those grants. And so we had to take on the expense of equipment that we had purchased to facilitate our online learning from our own budget, which was already strained.
One of the downsides of a pandemic year for us was that many of our families held back and they didn’t re-enroll. So, we went from 485 students down to 308 students. The PPPs, the employee retention credits, those were all significant in helping us to maintain our payroll. But what really helped us to continue to be able to bring in the equipment that was needed, whether it was computers and microphones and air purifiers, the additional utilities expenses, etc, etc. — all of these overhead expenses were covered by a large portion by our donors.
Do you expect to offer online classes next year?
Online is not going away for the very fact that quarantining and isolating is not going away. As far as we know, at this point. We’re still going to have families who will, you know, have exposures. And that exposure is going to require that students and families quarantine or isolate. Learning needs to continue. One of the blessings we’ve had is we’ve had no outbreaks on our school campus to date. It’s a true blessing and a true accomplishment, if you will, by the grace of God. And we don’t take that for granted.
As parents, we are always asking for certainty. How do you respond when you can’t offer that?
Yes, we as parents do want certainty. And when we’re paying for a product, we’re even more adamant about getting what we paid for. And one of the things that, you know, we have learned through the pandemic, or I should say we have really learned through the pandemic experience, is that there is no certainty in anything but God’s grace. And so, we contribute and enroll in school, by choice, with tuition dollars, to be able to be a part of a community bigger than ourselves, be a part of something meaningful, and to be a part of something that offers certainty and togetherness and knowledge and faith.