Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs: Ashraf Arafat
This summer we undertook extensive professional development of all of the staff so that all of our teachers would be equipped with the most up-to-date and best researched remote teaching pedagogies. We have put a special focus on the lower elementary grades, in which remote learning can be more difficult than it is for older students. Al-Hamdullilah, we have been blessed with amazing teachers for these grades who have adopted new techniques and styles that are helping their students grow and develop in their virtual classrooms. As an administration, we are committed to providing whatever resources are needed to help our students and facilitate the process for our parents. One of the things that we started this year, that we were not doing last year, is delivering weekly packets that coincide with the online instruction for our PreK and Kindergarten students. We know that it would be difficult for parents to have to come and pick up the packets every week so we deliver them to our students homes. We have also ordered new Chromebooks for all of our students to ensure that every student has a device. We have also changed many of the tools that we use to teach our curriculum by using high-quality online resources.
The PVS Math department strives to provide students a strong base in fundamental computation skills and a comprehensive understanding of mathematical concepts. With the onset of the pandemic, the PVS Math department quickly shifted to online resources: ebooks, virtual math labs, and online testing. Because most students are unfamiliar with these online platforms, math teachers are working with students one-on-one to address their personal needs. Ms. Rizwana Harun, head of the math department, works with her students closely to imitate the in-school learning environment. She says, “I have always differentiated in my class; therefore when we started virtual learning, I used breakout rooms to have a more effective learning system.” Ms. Harun and Ms. Mona Salim, the math assistant, work together to attend to all students at all times. Ms. Harun is also reinstating the Mathcounts club virtually. Previously, middle school students would meet with her after school for 30 minutes two days a week for practice for their competition in February. She will now shift this to a virtual platform.
The PVS English department has been working closely with students since the onset of the pandemic. Since the 4th quarter of the 2019-20 school year, the English Department has been planning special programs for students to remain engaged with reading and writing. During the summer, English teachers organized a summer reading program for students from elementary to high school. The summer reading program focused on the concept of “grit – the mixture of passion and perseverance that research shows is a characteristic that leads to success.” Teachers recruited a core group of high school students to volunteer as mentors and facilitators for the elementary and middle school summer reading groups. For this school year, a group of high school students is working to reinstate a similar program: a reading program for elementary students.
The Social Studies department aims to provide students with an understanding of historical and current events in a manner that helps them understand their place in the world and through means that improve their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Last March, the social studies department was able to quickly transition to remote platforms and time was given to helping students understand the social, economic, political and historical aspects of the pandemic and its spread. With the brutal murder of George Floyd this summer, the department has also worked to help PVS students understand the long history of racial injustices that have continued since the first colonists came to what came to be called the United States. The Social Studies department has helped students understand how to use online tools to come to a better understanding of both historical and current events. Students continued to compete in the National History Day competition with students presenting projects at both the State and National levels through remote means.
The Arabic department transitioned to remote learning last March by working to provide as many online tools as possible for students to use as they continued to learn Arabic virtually. The department has focused on taking advantage of the benefits that can accrue from online teaching while working to overcome the obstacles. Teachers have been able to work individually with students that need extra assistance and have been able to make good use of the plethora of online resources in Arabic to keep students better engaged. The department also set up an Arabic Help Desk that provides daily assistance for any PVS student that needs help with completing their homework in Arabic. Understanding that many parents do not speak Arabic, the Help Desk aims to ensure that students can complete their homework without parental assistance. The Help Desk also provides an opportunity for students to practice speaking Arabic, an important practice that will help them gain proficiency in the language.
The Technology department has worked since the onset of remote teaching and learning to help all PVS students navigate through the various remote platforms that we are using while emphasizing the importance of mastering the art of using technology for learning purposes. Last year, AP Computer Science was introduced to High School students while we re-instated regular weekly computer classes for most elementary and all the middle school grades. The department has been focusing on teaching coding skills while ensuring that the students are also adept at using all the computer functions for word processing, spreadsheet analysis and presentations. This year we have put a renewed focus on teaching the elementary students typing skills so that they can become more comfortable in using digital formats for all of their learning purposes. With the entire school being remote since last March, we have found an increased level of interest, motivation and engagement in the technology classes.
The Qur’an department has witnessed incredible growth among our students since the beginning of the pandemic. Last March, the Qur’an department quickly transitioned to remote teaching by providing students with one-on-one instruction aimed at meeting the individual needs of each student. With more time for Qur’an recitation and memorization, especially during Ramadan, students made phenomenal progress. The department built on that progress with summer Qur’an programs that saw significant improvements in both our students’ recitation skills as well as the amount that they memorized. We began this year with a revamped Qur’an program that aims at continuing the progress we made since last March. The Qur’an classes have now been arranged in very small groups and they are given in the afternoon. The small group sizes have enabled teachers to hone in on the specific learning needs of each student, with emphasis being placed on correct pronunciation of each letter, reading fluency, and application of the rules of recitation. Students are also being given individualized memorization objectives.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the Islamic Studies department has focused on meeting the social and emotional needs of all of our students during this critical time. We have worked to help them understand that despite the tragedies the world is facing and the need to turn to Allah to meet the challenges of this time, Islam also teaches the Muslim and provides them the means to always maintain a positive attitude and to remain optimistic. The Islamic Studies department has also conducted a number of activities aimed at maintaining the idea of community and keeping our students engaged with Allah (swt). We immediately moved our daily Dhuhr Khateras to a remote format, providing an opportunity for the entire school body to meet on a daily basis for the remembrance of Allah. We even continued this during the summer, something that we had not done before we moved to remote instruction. In Ramadan, we had a nightly Ramadan Reflections program and we had a similar program during the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah. At the beginning of this year, we also reinstated the Morning Assembly so our students could start the day in the remembrance of Allah.
Physical Education (P.E.) has always played a principal role in the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle for our students. The PVS P.E. program promotes the development of integral skills in our students, such as teamwork, leadership, and perseverance through a variety of sports and fitness programs. As the traditional way of teaching P.E. has been interrupted because of the pandemic, the PVS athletic department has made significant changes in order to combat these new challenges. “We now use internet platforms, like Zoom, to teach P.E. and it is more of a challenge to ask students who are at home to maintain an active exercise regimen to keep them in good physical condition,” Coach Abdul Haleem explains. “However, these last couple of weeks of virtual training are proving to be a success and parents are responding positively,” he says. As for afterschool sports programs, it will be a challenge to maintain regular sports while following state health guidelines, but Abdul Haleem is staying positive and hoping for the best. “As for now, to keep our athletes’ spirits alive, we will be running practices and trainings via Zoom. God willing, after the pandemic has subsided, we really look forward to training our athletes in a normal setting.”
The PVS Science department uses a variety of methods to hone critical thinking and problem-solving skills in our students and apply them to the real world. PVS focuses on building these essential skills so that students are prepared to respond to societal needs and global challenges. Despite the pandemic having such a large impact on schooling and education, PVS science teachers have quickly adapted to this new world of remote learning. Dr. Farhana Chowdhury, the science department chair, says that she’s been focusing on finding new ways to make her classes more engaging and interactive, something that has been a great concern with remote learning. “A lot of the things that I could teach my students, especially lab work, is more difficult to teach in remote formats. When you actually deal with flame and glasswares … your movement is different then when you do virtual labs. But I’m really looking forward to when we have at least a few occasions where we can bring a few students at a time to do labs.” As for the science competitions, such as the annual Science Fair and various chemistry competitions, whether they will be virtual or in-person has still not been confirmed yet. “Since the pandemic started, obviously a lot of the organizations closed down their competitions, so they have more virtual or remote events where the actual competition really didn’t take place. There is not really anything coming up right now because I think everybody’s brainstorming how to conduct these competitions.”
Art is one of the most fundamental ways for students to express their creative ideas and imagination through a variety of mediums. The PVS Visual Arts department, which was established seven years ago, provides opportunities for our students to perceive, respond to, create, and communicate through art. While the pandemic has brought forth many challenges for educators, department chair Ms. Nida Mujahid has made the necessary adjustments to overcome these new challenges. “My aim is to let students view things differently and challenge themselves creatively,” she says. “It's not about just finishing a project. With remote learning, I've changed my approach from project-oriented to process-oriented, letting students determine their own pace, allowing them to connect with and explore their ideas.” Mujahid says she has been introducing different art concepts based on the painting, The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh. She says she’s excited to see the students’ final products and hopes to have a gallery to display the students’ work. “I'm encouraging students to go bigger with their projects at home because they have that time and space to work … Final presentations will be fun, can't wait to see student work at the end of every project.”