A passion for model trains and inquisitive students is the perfect junction for retired educator A H Sharif Salim.
Brought on board to manage the An Nur Academy and Hifz school at his local masjid – Prince George’s Muslim Association (PGMA) – as the Academic Director this year, he is joined by Sr. Nikeitha Brown, a PhD candidate in education.
A little United Nations of ethnicities make up the hifz school boys at An Nur Academy: Abdil Muhaymin Chowdhury, 13, Abdul Malik Bah, 13, Sohbhan Hussain, 12, Mumin Odeh, 13, Mostafa Abker, 14. The projects inspired the boys to look into careers like engineering and architecture.
“If you want to learn something, you should go to Br. [Salim],” chimes in Chowdhury. The boys take a break from their memorization to spend a few hours twice a week with Salim.
Salim has 40 years of experience as an educator and a mentor for young men. From the tough streets of DC to Roosevelt High School, Sharif is used to engineering schools in ‘dark territory’ without signals. He has served as a principal and vice-principal in several middle and high schools in DC and Maryland. He uses PIE (plan, implement and evaluate) and CASA —Clear expectations, Academic Rigor, Student led conversations and Accountability to Actions— to ballast his often distressed school assignments towards excellence.
His vision was to see the hifz boys do projects that exemplified the principles they were learning in the Quran. The boys worked on a project to build a model of a masjid based on the structure going up near the PGMA campus, the Turkish American Cultural Center. They plan on presenting the model to their neighbors when the center opens this year. A 100 pieces of wood were used to make the model held together by carpenter glue, carefully painted and decorated with ayahs from the Quran.
Simultaneously Salim and the boys were chiseling away at an Islamic green city—winter scene set in Canada, near Alaska.
This model has windmills, and a hydro powered dam, a town center, a masjid with a boy and girls hifz school and train tracks. Salim makes model cities and trains in his basement; he is often the only African American presenting to large crowds at national model train shows.
“I hope it is a year they will never forget,” he says proudly, as he shows off the intricately made tiny solar panels. The boys remind Salim that as the world seeks to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel and expand renewable environmentally safe energy using wind, water and sun, these are resources ‘gifted to us by Allah.’
He has implemented changes to the academy. A yard and bake sale, professional development. The recently developed newsletter, the Vanguard, promotes the family feel in the school and has empowered parents. So far most of his goals have exceeded expectations except for increasing enrollment.