A quick Google search for “interfaith high school” returns thousands of results for programs, dialogs, coalitions, and more. But only one result names an actual school: The Peace & Justice Academy (PAJA) 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 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. “PAJA 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.”
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 goal of PAJA 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.
“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,” said Feldman.
All students will have classes in their own faith traditions and in those of their fellow students, as well as rigorous preparation for college. They will learn and practice mediation, restorative justice, and strategies for non-violent direct action. Students 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.”