BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Eager faces peer through the glass, all lined up along the entrance. Kids of all ages, chattering away. A “haven’t-see-you-in-a-while” and a “we-got-a-new-dog” could be heard. Some faces were new, looking around unsure, but still taken up by the excitement around them.
No, this was not the first day of school at the local high school, middle school or even elementary school. This was the first day at the Kaur & Singh Academy (fondly known as “KASA”), a Sunday school, with about 100 students, conducted at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, catering to the local communities not only in Bridgewater, but also students from a 50-mile radius around it, including Basking Ridge, Warren, Edison, Franklin Park, Short Hills, Summit, Parsippany and others.
The school is modeled after some of the Christian parochial schools where students are welcome regardless of denomination. However, being only in its third year of operation, the school is held just on Sundays from 9:30 to 12:30, and students consist primarily from the growing Sikh population in New Jersey.
Sikhism, founded by Guru Nanak Sahib in the Panjab region of Asia in 1469, has over 25 million followers worldwide. Hallmarks of Sikhism are belief in one divine power, equality among all, honest labor, love toward everyone and caring for environment. Coursework consists of Boli (Panjabi Language), Virsa (Sikh History) and Gurbani (Sikh Scriptures). An elective in Gurmat Sangeet (classical Sikh music) is also offered due to popular demand.
Uniquely, KASA is the first of its kind here in NJ where the location is not in a Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship), temple or a religious place. It uses the quality infrastructure offered by NJ to its residents. KASA is conducted in the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School with all of the latest tools available, rivaling the best of schools in the country. And the students have happily given it high marks in surveys conducted. There has been some initial planning to grow it into a five-day K-12 school where all subjects — English, math, etc. — are taught, in addition to traditional Sikh subjects being taught, essentially following a parochial system based on the Catholic model.
As the doors open, the students rush in. Attendance is marked at the front desk … or not (as they go through too fast). There will be time enough later. New students are admitted and shown their classes. Gurbani (scripture), Boli (language) and Virsa (history) classes take place with a bell to indicate the change over to the next class.
After the last class is Divan, the religious service. At KASA, the emphasis is for students to conduct the service, thereby practically learning the Sikh code of conduct and traditions. And the students perform a beautiful service. Reciting The Word, singing the Shabad (Sikh hymns), discussing the meaning, taking the Hukum (message of the day) and closing with Ardas (the Supplication).
As Pope Francis mesmerizes America with his visit, we too are trying to create a little bit of magic for the younger generation of Sikh Americans who come to study at KASA