27321 Hampden St, Madison Heights, MI 48071
27321 Hampden St, Madison Heights, MI 48071

August 2015

KEYS in the Detroit Free Press

New Charter School Boosts Chaldean, Assyrian Cultures

 

New charter school boosts Chaldean, Assyrian cultures

Nathan Kalasho spent seven years nurturing a big dream — to create a school that preserved the Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac cultures. But as that vision turns to reality with the September opening of Keys Grace Academy Charter School, a bittersweet feeling has set in.

“What we’re doing here is coinciding with the genocide that’s going on in Iraq and Syria now,” said Kalasho, president of the charter management company that will operate Keys Grace and a member of the school’s development team. “That’s why it’s so important to open up a school such as this. It’s the duty of educators to try to preserve what’s left.”

The school, which celebrates a ribbon-cutting ceremony tonight and where an open house will be held Friday — is a first of its kind in the United States.

What makes it unique? On top of teaching the state’s standards, the K-12 school will ensure that by the time students graduate high school they’ll be proficient in three languages — English, modern Aramaic and either Spanish or French. The school also will offer a Chaldean culture course and a course in Mesopotamian history.

“I tried to figure out a way to open up a school that would incorporate strong academics and strong discipline, that would nurture students and serve families and at the same time blend in a rich culture,” Kalasho said.

It all stems from a vision Kalasho had — one spurred by his parents who’ve been public school educators since 1992. His parents are Chaldean immigrants from Iraq who came to the United States in the 1970s.

“They’re two people who served the community my entire upbringing. They passed down the importance of education and the preservation of culture to me,” Kalasho said.

That Mesopotamian history course, he said, will be focused on the Babylonian and the Assyrian civilizations. “These are the civilizations that commonly get forgotten about in the Western world and in particular in schools, which is unfortunate,” Kalasho said.

And the school will have a Mesopotamian feel, with antiques, sculptures and replicas of statues, Kalasho said.

The school is the first charter to be authorized by Madison District Public Schools. It is open to students throughout metro Detroit.

“We are very much supportive of what’s going on at Keys Grace,” Madison Superintendent Randy Speck said last week. The school’s location may mean some students currently enrolled in his district might leave.

“We might have some students who will benefit from their school. We also know they’re going to have some students who will benefit from our schools.”

And while the cultural focus is what draws attention, there are several other features of the school that make it stand out. For one, students will receive free transportation from their home to the school — no matter where they live. It’s an unusual service for a charter school, particularly given that its students so far are hailing from 20 metro Detroit school districts — some as close as Warren and Sterling Heights and others as far away as West Bloomfield.

Students also will receive free uniforms, shoes, tablets or laptops, and breakfast and lunch every day.

The school already has 300 students enrolled — about 70% of whom are Chaldean. Another 200 are expected to enroll before the school year begins in September.

When the school is at full capacity, it’ll enroll up to 600 students, Kalasho said.

“I cannot wait for that moment.”

Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651, lhiggins@freepress.com or @LoriAHiggins

Open house on Friday

Keys Grace Academy Charter School is holding an open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the school, 27321 Hampden in Madison Heights. For more information about the school, call 248-629-7700 or visit www.keysacademies.org.

KEYS in The Oakland Press

“Nations first…to open in Madison Heights”

 

The former Edison Elementary School on Hampden Street in Madison Heights will soon open as The Keys Grace Academy Charter School. Photo submitted by school.

A school official, Selwan Kashat, is painting the stairs. Photo submitted by the school.

The founders are calling it the first school of its kind in the United States.

What used to be the Edison Elementary School, on Hampden Street in Madison Heights, will soon open as The Keys Grace Academy Charter School.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6.

Founder and director of the school, Nathan Kalasho, says he started the school with a purpose.

“Chaldean people are on the verge of extinction in the Middle East and it is essential we preserve our heritage through education,” said Kalasho. “Education is a human right.”

Kalasho said the school will accomplish this goal through a strict academic and well-disciplined academy dedicated to classic classroom and technological education.

“Our school provides a private school feeling in a public school setting,” he said.

Kalasho and his family are spending about $200,000 to have the school building up and running.

Organizers say about 300 students are already committed, and the school is expecting 200 more to enroll in the next month. The school’s ultimately capacity is 800 students.

Although a majority of them have Chaldean background, students from all communities are welcome.

The school has also scheduled an open house for Friday August 7th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for interested families.

The school will have classes for Pre K through 12th grade students. Other than the regular education, school organizers say by the end of their graduation the students will be “proficient in at least three languages” including English, Aramaic and either Spanish or French.

Each student will receive at no cost, two uniforms, shoes, computers, breakfast and lunch each day and free door to door transportation to and from school.

For more information, visit keysacademies.com or call 248-629-7700.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KEYS in The Detroit News

“…First of its kind in nation

 

Iraqi-born Dunia Hormez has always tried to pass on her Chaldean culture to her children even as they have attended public schools.

Next month, her lessons at home will be reinforced when she sends five of her kids to what organizers say is the nation’s first Chaldean-centered charter school.

Scheduled to open Sept. 8, the Keys Grace Academy Charter School, in Madison Heights, is aimed at preserving the Iraqi-Christian heritage through education.

“It gives them more of the culture I try to teach them, and they will learn the language, too,” Hormez said.

The school plans a ribbon cutting on Thursday and open house on Friday.

The Keys Grace Academy will open as Metro Detroit has grown to include 150,000 Chaldeans, making the region home to the second-largest Chaldean community in the world. Most Chaldeans are Eastern Rite Catholics who speak their native language, Aramaic, and are indigenous to Iraq, Syria and parts of Iran and Turkey.

Although the school will welcome all children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, it is expected that most will be Chaldean. Upon graduation, the students are expected to be proficient in at least three languages: English, Aramaic and either Spanish or French. Each student will be provided two uniforms, shoes, computers, breakfast and lunch, and free transportation.

It will be “a public school with a private school feeling,” as founder Nathan Kalasho and his family will greet students every morning, spokesman Mort Meisner said.

So far, 300 children have enrolled and 200 more are expected in the next month. Ultimately, the school is expected to be at capacity with 800 students.

The Keys Grace Academy will be housed in the former Edison Elementary School on Hampden Street, and will be the first charter authorized by Madison District Public Schools.

“Rather than seeing this as a competition for students, we saw this as a collaboration and as a way of servicing students from other countries,” said Madison District Superintendent Randy Speck.

The school arrives as turmoil in the Middle East has driven refugees, including Chaldeans, from their homeland. More than 30,000 Chaldeans have left the region since 2007 in the wake of the Iraq war, Syrian civil conflict and, more recently, the rise of the Islamic State.

The influx of refugees has led the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce to expand its not-for-profit arm, the Chaldean Community Foundation, from a 2,000-square-foot building into a 12,000-square-foot building in Sterling Heights. It will be open in November to assist refugees with English learning, career services, citizenship applications, access to health care and more.

Locally, Chaldeans reside primarily in Macomb and Oakland counties, mostly in Warren, Sterling Heights, Shelby Township and parts of Madison Heights.

“Those areas have seen the largest influx of refugees,” said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, which has tracked the community.

The Keys Grace Academy was the vision of Kalasho, a West Bloomfield resident who invested $200,000 in preparing the building. He is president of Kalasho Empowerment of Young Scholars, which will manage the school.

“Chaldean people are on the verge of extinction in the Middle East and it is essential we preserve our heritage through education,” Kalasho said.

“Our school will accomplish this goal through a strict academic and well-disciplined academy dedicated to classic classroom and technological education.”

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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