Understanding challenges of Muslim students
Elham Al-Hindi, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, speaks on working with Muslim families with young children. The Collaboration for Early Childhood hosted its 10th annual symposium Saturday at Percy Julian Middle School. | Jon Langham~for
Updated: February 28, 2013 1:47PM
OAK PARK — Elham Al-Hindi’s 7-year-old son, like many Muslim children, attends Arabic school on the weekends.
There, he learns to read right to left. On weekdays, however, he attends a mainstream school where students are taught to read left to right.
The minor confusion he faces as he masters each language is a temporary glitch many Muslim children may face in mainstream schools. However, teachers often mistakenly recommend to immigrant parents that they speak only English at home — a request that often isn’t possible in families where some members have not yet mastered their new country’s language.
“At a certain age, children can be influenced by five languages if they are adequately introduced to that many languages,” said Al-Hindi, a student at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Al-Hindi and Jean Mendoza’s workshop on “Working With Muslim Families With Young Children” was one of 19 reinforcing the theme “Building Relationships in Early Childhood” Saturday, Feb. 23 at the 10th annual symposium. The event was hosted by the Collaboration for Early Childhood at Percy Julian Middle School.
Marie Masterson, associate professor of early childhood at Dominican University, delivered the keynote address on “Inspiring Change: maximizing Your Influence With Children and Families.” The event, attended by about 400 participants, also included a panel discussion on “Community: Celebrating What Everyone Brings to the Table.”
Mendoza, who has taught at Pilgrim Community Nursery School, said she was inspired to share what she was forced to learn about Muslims and Islam based on “a couple of fails that were really embarrassing.”
“I didn’t meet anyone I knew was Muslim or anyone I identified as Muslim ‘til I moved to Oak Park,” the Decatur, Ill., native said.
Seeking more information after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Mendoza sought out information at a mosque in Champagne-Urbana, where she was working.
“There was an audible gasp from students in my class when I said I’d been to the mosque, and I thought, ‘Well we have some work to do.’ They thought I had done something dangerous,” she said.
Americans need to develop a sense of “cultural reciprocity,” Mendoza said. People from other cultures, especially those who are new to this country, constantly must learn about mainstream U.S. culture, but Americans usually are more reluctant to learn about others, she said.
Mendoza advocates using the Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children as a guide for teachers in classrooms with a multicultural population.
Sina Rufin, a first- and second-grade teacher at First Baptist Church in Oak Park, said she had a Saudi student with whom she experienced a deferential father who allowed her to work with his 6-year-old son without interruption.
“I wanted to learn about something I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about,” she said about her choice to experience Mendoza and Al-Hindi’s workshop.
”I am one who feels we all are of the human race, and I love to learn about it and to be more tolerant of other cultures, which is very important in our society so we don’t have these myths in our lives that are the opposite of truth.”