Aisha* descends the basement stairs, her laptop and earphones in tow. Storage bins and workout equipment crowd the left side of her desk. The shuffling steps and mumblings of her mother, father, grandparents, and siblings echo overhead.
“Welcome to our morning athkaar and assembly,” her laptop sounds. Aisha cinches the strings of her hoodie against her hijab, inhales, and recites her daily duas.
In March of 2020, schools across the nation were forced to convert to virtual instruction as a result of the ever-increasing severity of COVID-19. Following hurried deliberations, Al Huda school resolved to launch its rendition of online instruction; scrambling to train over 60 teachers and staff members, and simultaneously acclimate hundreds of students to virtual classrooms within the span of six days. “We had one week of training before students joined,” says Zara Tariq, Al Huda’s 3rd Grade Instructor. Administrators promoted several teachers to leadership positions in an effort to redress the understaffed institution.
“Although I work mostly in finance, I did assist with some of the helpdesk support for our parents for the first couple of days, because it was really busy,” said Al Huda Preschool Office Manager, Randa El-Kasabi. Teachers and administrators united to navigate the uncertainty of the covid crisis amidst the constraints of time, scant funding, and staff shortage.
Students now flooded the screens of laptops and computers once relegated to after-school usage. “The transition was really difficult because I couldn’t see my friends anymore, and I’d never used zoom before. The teachers helped us get used to it and it’s getting better every day,” Aisha, an Al Huda eighth grader said. Many students and faculty members had to reorganize their living spaces to acclimate to their new realities at home. “I usually sit in the basement at my desk because I don’t have my own room. The most challenging thing for me has been trying to find a quiet place to sit, so it gets very stressful. I really miss being with my friends and talking to them during my break, but I’m looking forward to returning when schools reopen,” Aisha added. Students are required to attend live instruction as teachers record daily attendance. Despite abbreviated virtual meetings and online class submissions, Al Huda endeavors to provide students with an experience close to what they would have received before COVID.
“It’s challenging to not see the students and zone in on each of their specific needs the same way I could do in the classroom. Online instruction requires teachers to prepare their lessons much differently than we do in person, and we are in uncharted territory-it’s kind of like building a plane while it already took off. It’s challenging.” Tariq said. In order to better address the needs of each child, elementary grades utilize two shifts for live instruction.
Staff members hastened towards daily zoom meetings, which captured the unwavering efforts of teachers and administrators to generate a sense of togetherness and positivity as they planned for the upcoming semesters. The task of implementing remote learning spurred the anxieties of teachers as they questioned how to help their students feel more comfortable, what class norms might be, what skills the students will come in with, how tech savvy they are and which skills they will need to teach students when it comes to navigating the internet and their devices. Having adopted the learning management system, CANVAS, students have been able to access the materials of each class once offered in-person. No class has been left behind. Even further, it was important that students participate in the Morning Athkaar and assembly, which encourages parents and students to remember Allah before beginning the day. “When you start the day with the remembrance of Allah, it puts a sense of barakah in the whole day and teaches students a valuable sunnah that they read the morning athkaar. We thought it was a great opportunity to continue to offer it because now parents can get involved and participate in the morning athkaar, which is great and beautiful,” said Haroon Baqai, Al Huda School Principal.
As the semester progresses, Al Huda teachers and administrators maintain their same sense of unity. They continue to do their best to create a sense of normalcy for students during this unstable time. “Any change can be challenging but MashaAllah we have an excellent team and we worked together to get through the initial stress,” said El-Kasabi. With the help of Allah, and the combined efforts of teachers, students, and staff, Al Huda’s virtual take-off will be a success.
[*Student’s name changed for privacy]