Exploring Education at WIS
Recently, many of our Primary School students had the opportunity to meet Maryland-born Hena Khan, a Pakistani-American Muslim author of children’s stories. Growing up, Khan loved to read and would bring home bags of books from her local library. However, she quickly recognized that none of the stories reflected her own life experiences, so she set out to change that. Her most recent novel, Amina’s Voice, is about “a Pakistani-American Muslim girl [who] struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community.” While Khan writes about the universal issues facing most young students, such as self-doubt and changing friendships, she also addresses some unique issues facing young Pakistani-American Muslims in a world where Islamophobia is on the rise. One of her goals in writing these novels is to educate her readers about Islam and what it’s like to be part of the Muslim community in the United States.
Our students were thrilled to meet Ms. Khan and get the chance to chat with her. She shared with them information about her Muslim faith, such as: using prayer carpets, praying five times a day facing toward Mecca, and special traditions during the holy month of Ramadan. She also talked to the students about using her own life and culture as an inspiration for her writing.
Some reactions from the students:
“I thought that it was very interesting to hear what inspired her to write. A lot of authors who come have wonderful presentations, but they never really elaborate on why they decided to write of all the other professions. I think it was a pretty moving origin story, about her writing, and I really like her writing, so it was interesting to see her in person and be able to communicate with her.”
“She’s really proud of her country.”
“She’s creative and interesting.”
“Her stories are relatable. She bases them on her life.”
“She helped us find at least one thing we could relate to in her book, Amina’s Voice — normal things that could happen to a kid, like jealousy.”
“She tried to show a little of what’s happening in the world, how she wanted to help these people — like not all Muslims are terrorists, and a lot of people think they are.”
“She writes in both English and Arabic — it’s interesting that they write from right to left in Arabic.”
Middle School Dean of Students Eric Beck has introduced another new initiative in the Middle School: Voices of a Generation. The idea is to have students get up in front of their peers at assemblies and speak about topics that are important to them, whether it's current events taking place in our world, or something more specific to their WIS experience.
The first student speaker was 8th Grader Vanessa S., who spoke about immigrant rights. Her essay is below:
"I care about immigrant rights because I care about human rights. Human rights are the fundamental freedoms that each person should have as a birthright. The United States is a nation of immigrants. It is at the core of what this country is. The United States is founded on the idea that immigrants can come here and build a better life for themselves, their families and seek shelter and asylum from the horrors happening in their home countries.
This has particular meaning to me especially because I am jewish. We are a people that has been marginalized throughout our history. We have been persecuted and forced out of other countries generation after generation. In our first exodus from Egypt we ran from slavery. We wandered the desert for 40 years seeking refuge until we reached Israel. In the Inquisition we were exiled, completely erased from Spanish history. And we fled to Eastern Europe.
During the Holocaust we were persecuted, victims of one of the largest genocides in history and fled to the America’s in masses.
Growing up jewish, it is a theme that we continually discuss throughout our education. It is a part of who we are. We know where we’ve been and we are putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are living that situation right now.
Caring about immigrant rights impacts me because it has caused me to change the way I think about the topic. Before I didn’t really pay attention to how immigrants were being treated. I just thought immigrants were getting deported because they did something bad.
I didn’t know what they did and I didn't have the knowledge back then to question why. I didn’t know how they were being deported or how their rights were being abused day by day. They are treated violently, detained in cell-like conditions well they should at least be given respectable living spaces.
It is stated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights that, “No one should be subjected arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
In Fairfax, VA not far from here, mid February, a group of ICE officers waited outside a church until 6 men walked out of the door.
They stormed them, arrested them and took them away without giving a reason. We don’t even know if they were undocumented. They could’ve been citizens or had a green card. But they were profiled, for their race and violated of their rights. The quote end quote “crimes” that these people have been committed are not directly impacting someone else. We often think of crimes as robberies, murders and violence. These usually affect someone else directly. When they are here undocumented, though they are breaking a law, they are doing nothing to negatively impact anyone else. They are living their lives, doing their jobs and helping their families.
I can imagine what it feels like to be treated a certain way then you have done nothing wrong. I have been in that situation, as little as it may seem. Your rights are violated. And it makes me angry that people have to be put in that situation, it makes me want to do something. And it inspires me to find ways to support the cause. I hope this speech inspires you to discover the things you care about in this world, what you want to change, what you want to do to make a difference. Together we can change the world."
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, if you stop by the WIS Primary School around 4:00 PM, you’re likely to see a group of young ladies heading off campus toward the Duke Ellington Track, two blocks away from WIS. These eight-to-eleven-year-olds are member of the WIS Girls on the Run team, and are preparing to run (or walk) a 5K on June 4!
Founded in Charlotte, NC in 1996, Girls on the Run is a “national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” The goal is to “inspire girls to recognize their inner strength and celebrate what makes them one of a kind.” Girls on the Run is designed to allow any girl to participate, regardless of ability or income level. The local chapter, Girls on the Run-DC, was founded in 2006. Today, GOTR-DC serves almost 2,100 girls a year across all eight wards of the city.
Over twelve weeks, volunteer coaches lead the girls through various activities designed to empower and strengthen them not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Girls on the Run has developed a specific curriculum that includes dynamic discussions, workout activities, and running games. The team learns strategies to combat stress and peer pressure (such as “taking a breather” or meditation), affirmations for positive self-talk, cultivating gratitude, and creating healthy habits for life. Additionally, the girls are tasked with developing a project that will make a positive impact on the local community. In the past, the team has organized a bake sale, held a community cleanup, and volunteered at a local organization.
For the last few years, Girls on the Run at WIS has been organized by WIS Admissions Assistant, Faye Turini. She explains, “I took over from a parent who had girls who are now in the Upper School. It had always been parent-run, but there was no parent who was going to be able to pick it up from the existing team. I did not want to see the program end, so I took over three years ago.” The size of the program varies each year. This spring, GOTR at WIS is made up of five coaches, three junior coaches (Upper School students), and 30 girls.
One of the junior coaches, WIS 11th Grader Phoebe T., decided to volunteer with the program because it combines two things she loves — running and working with children. When asked about the GOTR program, she explains, “I like it quite a lot. I think it’s good that there’s a guide for what we’re doing. It gives us a good focus, and I like that we have an end point as well — that we’re doing this 5K. It’s really important, because the girls find it really motivating. They’re also learning a lot, and they’re asking a lot of questions, especially about how to live a healthy life. And they’re building this tighter-knit community, and I love seeing that.” Phoebe also acknowledges that she has become a role model for these younger girls: “There’s definitely a little bit of pressure, because you want to make sure you say the right thing. But at the same time, I’m just trying to be the best version of me. It’s nice seeing that you’re making a positive impact on the community.”
Faye continues, “I love the program because it helps empower girls. Originally I joined it for the running aspect, but then I realized there is so much more to it — social and emotional growth, and also helping them understand that if they put their minds to it, they can complete a 5K or any challenge that comes their way. We’ve had a few 5th Graders who have done GOTR for a few years, and I’ve seen that the program really helps them develop into strong girls who also recognize other people’s strengths. They often start off very shy and quiet, and by the time they are in 5th Grade, they are helping to lead the practices. And by the time we get to the 5K, the entire team is so excited. Watching each girl cross the finish line is just amazing. They’re so proud. They’ve done this huge 5K. After they finish, they cheer on their teammates - and not just their teammates, but ALL the other girls and teams. It’s really nice to see everyone come together from all over the city.”
When asked what they like about Girls on the Run, the WIS girls had the following things to say:
“I like that we can spend time with and talk to each other.”
“I like that we can get exercise and fresh air.”
“I like it because all the coaches are encouraging and fun, everyone’s really encouraging, the coaches are nice, and we don’t do boring stuff, like standing around and watching videos.”
“We can make new friends.”
“You get to run and express yourself.”
“I like that it’s inclusive, and you don’t need special qualifications about your height, or how much you exercise normally, and you can just join. It’s more about improvement, and learning how to get better at running, than about being the best.”
One of our 5th Graders, Riley D., loves Girls on the Run so much that she wrote an essay about it last year and submitted it to the national contest. Among 900 essays, Riley’s won! This excerpt from her essay is proof the program works:
“I see myself in ten years in a great college, studying to get a business degree. Girls on the Run helps me picture myself as a business leader because Girls on the Run teaches me that women are as powerful as men. Now, because Girls on the Run has encouraged me to be athletic, I am able to play basketball with the boys and feel equally as strong. Girls on the Run may seem like a class to others, but to me Girls on the Run is an encouragement that girls can be athletes. I take Girls on the Run because it makes me proud to be who I am. This is my second year. Every time I finish one lap, I feel as if in the future I can be a powerful woman and may be a CEO in business. Traditionally men take this position in companies, but Girls on the Run persuades me to feel like I too can be a leader. I thank Girls on the Run for teaching me that if a boy says ‘you run like girl’ that means that girls run powerfully.”
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