Students at Hilliard’s Sunrise Academy show community about Muslims


By Danae King The Columbus Dispatch
In seeking a STEM des-ignation from the state, Sunrise Academy in Hil-liard has started students on project-based learning. One project has second- and third graders working on how to show people more about Muslims and who they are. Eight-year-old Yusuf Adnan wants people to know that Mus-lims aren’t terrorists.
The third-grader at-tends Sunrise Academy in Hilliard, a full-time Islamic school that is working its way toward a statewide STEM (science, technol-ogy, engineering and math) designation this year by employing project-based learning.
Yusuf and his class are working on a project called “Behind the Picket Fence,” during which they will work to find ways to let central Ohio inside the fence that surrounds Sun-rise Academy.
One of the activities was to come up with a list to answer the question, “What should our commu-nity know about us?” Hanging up in the class-room, written on a large piece of lined paper in neat teacher’s print, were an-swers from students such as “We’re proud to be Muslim,” “We don’t steal or kill,” “We’re smart” and “We’re kind people.”
Yusuf said it makes him feel sad when he hears that people think Muslims like him and his family are terrorists. “We respect oth-ers,” he said. “If you don’t like us, that’s OK, but if you do, you would really like that.”
Project-based learning is a teaching method in which students are actively engaged in their learning through projects, said Sun-rise Academy Principal Mona Salti. They identify a “real-world” problem and then look for a solu-tion, while teachers facili-tate their work and make sure the school is still meeting state standards.
“We really wanted our students to begin to learn in a critical way and be invested in their learning,” Salti said. “We’re trying to move away from the tradi-tional approach … where it’s teacher-focused. “A good project can be trans-formative to students,” she said.
Project-based learning is a key component of good STEM education, said Wes Hall, interim senior vice president for philanthropy and education at Battelle, which manages the Ohio STEM Learning Net-work that gives the designation.
“Students are applying a problem from the commu-nity and trying to solve it in the classroom, so they’ll
have real-world context,” Hall said. There are 69 schools in the state with the STEM designation, and more are in the process, he said.
If Sunrise Academy gets the designation, it would be the first Islamic school in the state to have it, Hall said. While second- and third-graders are working to show community mem-bers what Sunrise is all about, the fifth-graders decided their school lunches were a problem, said Salti, and they set out to fix them.
“It’s very much student-led,” she said, of the pro-ject they’re working on. “It’s extremely hands-on and allows you deeper thinking, critical thinking.” The students have been researching nutrition, call-ing vendors and even took a field trip to another pri-vate school to see what their lunch options are like, she said.
“Kids are actually taking the initiative and solving it,” said Leanna Yacoub, director of kindergarten through fifth grade at Sun-rise. Sixth- through ninth-graders are working to make the school green, and they plan to create a recy-cling and composting pro-gram to reduce waste.
Though this is the first year the school has started doing project-based learn-