For those who are new to the blog, this piece is written by Srikandi Juliana Samsu (SPM 1980) who is currently residing in Silver Spring, Maryland, a surburb of Washington, D.C. She shares her experience as a wife, mother, Sunday School teacher, Camp Director, proud Muslimah in the midst of this millennium of the Islamic Revival and Gold Rush.
In the name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful
Last week, on October 14, 2009, I attended the Academic Night at my daughter’s, Aliyyah, school. Aliyyah is five and in kindergarten, at Cloverly Elementary School, one of the best school in Montgomery County (one of the best and richest county in the US). I can say this about Aliyyah’s school because I don’t recall going for such meeting for Muhammad (we were in Bergen County, a well off county in New Jersey) or Rasheed.
The teachers’ goal is to bring the kindergartner to reading at level 6 by the end of the school year. The parents were called in so we can be partners with the teacher on how to teach the children to read. I don’t recall how I learnt to read and write English. Nowadays, I think I switch between English and Melayu when I think. Hopefully, I will also add Arabic and several other languages to the list of language I master before I die, Insya Allah.
A little bit about school system in the US (at least in the East Coast).
a. All public school is provided, free of charge. This also include bus transportation if you live a distance from school and books. Children usually go to the schools in their neighborhood. I mean we do not pay any fees at all. They can’t even ask us to provide school supplies, just “donation” of supplies. Even if you have to take public transportation, they give you deep discount or free ride for students. For example, we pay $10 a month for Rasheed to take the public bus in the morning; the regular fare is $1.35 one-way.
b. There’s no central/federal control of schools budget. The school budget is done at county level. So you want to live in a rich county, which has nice big houses (people pay higher taxes here) than in the urban area, where people with big paychecks live.
c. At middle and high school level, you can check your child’s school progress and homework online, which is updated at least weekly if not daily. I like this because the children cannot lie about their status or homework at any time.
d. Starting from middle school, you can pick and choose the subjects you want your child to study. This is my husband’s area of expertise, I let him handle it. Rasheed is taking Algebra (he’s 12) at a level that we were taking it in Form Four or Five when I was in high school. So you can manage and push your child classes at his level. He is also in the Gifted and Talented program, so his classes are harder, preparing him for college level work at high school level. We are aiming for him to get scholarship to WestPoint or the Naval Academy, Insya Allah.
Muslims in America have a lot of work to do. We must participate in American society or we will perish. We must prepare our children to be strong in their deen, well-rounded and excel at all levels. Their names, looks, behavior all show that they are Muslims, subject to prejudice, discrimination and suspicions. Although Aliyyah is only five and the only girl who do so, we have her wear hijab to school. Alhamdullillah, she is secure and strong in her deen.
Peer pressure is strong and it goes both way. The other day one of my "sons" told me that there are now a lot of boys in his high school who are walking around with their pants folded up because they are copying the Muslims boys who do that to their pants after making wudu to pray at their school. We both laughed because these kids don't even know why they are doing it.
Anyway, I will share with you what the teachers said. Perhaps this will help you to teach your child or grandchild, since I know from my recent visit to Malaysia, speaking and reading English is a challenge and facing flip flop policy in the language of instructions in teaching of Math and Science do not help the children in mastering this language.
There are five main factors that determine success of a reader:
1. Phonemics Awareness – identify words beginning with the same sound; hear rhymes; break words into parts’ blend sounds together
2. Phonics – identify all upper and lower case letters (Bb); match sounds to letters, read simple high frequency words
Then, there’s the writing part.
They gave me flash cards of alphabets to use and a list of 25 sight words, and they are:
you said go on my we am can to this
is see the at come up look in it and
like me here I a
At this level also, they are emphasizing comprehension. Asking your child good questions BEFORE, DURING and AFTER reading can increase their understanding.
BEFORE READING (looking at the title and the cover)
What do you think this story might be about? WHY?
Do you think this book looks like it will be real or make-believe? WHY?
What do you think might happen next? WHY?
Why do you think ….?
What else could (the character) has done instead of ….?
What is the book about/What is the main idea? (this should be answered in more than 3-4 sentences)
What happened FIRST? In the MIDDLE? At the END of the story? (retell should be 1 2 sentences for each part of the story)
Could this story have really happened? (If no – why not)
HOW DID …
According to these teachers, this is rocket science. I think we underestimate our children’s ability sometimes. We are requiring a child like Aliyyah to learn to read and write English (reading from left to right, from front to back) and to also learn to read and write Arabic (reading from right to left, from back to front) and speak Melayu in an English speaking country. Some of you have met Aliyyah, so do you think she can do it? You bet! Your own children are doing all this right now. You have been asking your children to learn Bahasa Malaysia and English (a foreign language), read and write Al-Quran and Jawi and learn Islam. Sometimes we don't sit down and reflect on this enough.
Many of you here are retired and have some spare time. Why not lend a helping hand to the overworked working parents by helping them to teach their children? It will be your amal jariah that will benefit you long after you are gone, as long as that child is reading and benefitting from your help, Insya Allah.