By Pasadena Weekly
A quick Google search for “interfaith high school” returns tens of thousands of results for programs, dialogs, coalitions, councils, and more. But only one result names an actual school: The Peace & Justice Academy in Pasadena, CA. The nation’s first full-fledged interfaith high school is currently enrolling freshmen for Fall 2014.
This courageous step toward training the next generation of peacemakers is the result of sheer determination and hours of research and prayer, and has been driven by four talented educators: Kimberly Medendorp and Randy Christopher, co-executive directors of the Peace & Justice Academy; Amira Al-Sarraf, Head of School at New Horizon School, Pasadena; and Lisa Feldman, Head of School at David Weizmann Day School, Pasadena.
“We at New Horizon believe the soul is as important as the mind in educating and nurturing in a child’s life,” said Al-Sarraf. “An interfaith high school is a natural extension of this process and a perfect place for this to occur. The Peace & Justice Academy offers young people a critical opportunity at a critical time to explore one’s own faith and deepen respect and understanding of the faith of others. Those who experience such an education will have a unique advantage to become leaders in their world in expanding minds and hearts and building bridges.”
Using the name and campus of the fully accredited, college-prep high school that Medendorp and Christopher founded five years ago has made organizing the new Peace & Justice Academy logistically smoother. The new school will provide an avenue for highly motivated students from all three middle schools to continue studies they began as sixth graders: real-life applications for their faith. The goal of the Peace & Justice Academy has always been to teach students to stand for justice, wage peace, and change the world. Now students will be learning these things in an explicit interfaith context, starting with the Abrahamic faiths.
Lisa Feldman believes that Pasadena is perfect for such a bold experiment. “As a microcosm of cultural diversity, Pasadena is ripe for a new and unique educational environment – one that employs an interdisciplinary approach to engaging students so they may develop the necessary skills to act ethically, think deeply, embrace diversity, and pursue peace and justice.”
All students will have classes in their own faith traditions and in the traditions of their fellow students, as well as rigorous preparation for college. In addition, the students will learn and practice mediation, restorative justice, and strategies for non-violent direct action. They will also participate in Peace & Justice Labs, which take them out into the community and face-to-face with the injustices of the world.
From Kimberly Medendorp’s perspective, “This is the time to start learning together so that the world’s religions can become the solution to its problems and not the cause of them. The first step is tolerance. Tolerance leads to acceptance and celebration of diversity. It is impossible to start on that journey if we don’t have a relationship with those who are different from us.”