Stories from sola
Spend some time with our students.
We're thrilled to be able to bring you into our classrooms to meet our students, our teachers, and our global network of amazing volunteers.
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1. A day at SOLA.
We offer our students an educational experience unlike any other in Afghanistan, and our rigorous academic schedule and practical leadership programs make each day at SOLA a full one.
Our students' days begin with time for prayer. Students can make use of a mosque on campus. Time is set aside for students to pray five times during the day.
Every morning during the school week, SOLA students gather after breakfast.
Together they sing the National Anthem, the 99 Names of God, and they recite the SOLA pledge, which was written by students. School announcements conclude the assembly.
1st Period-8th Period
With assembly over, students head to their classes. Our courses follow the Afghan national curriculum, and our faculty offer enrichment coursework in the physical sciences, poetry, environmental science, art, entrepreneurship, current events, world history, and literature. Our students also meet on Skype several times each week with one of their volunteer e-tutors from around the world.
The curriculum for weekly leadership classes follows a developmentally appropriate sequence of skills acquisition. Every older student also holds at least one leadership position at SOLA. Roles include proctor, member of the discipline committee or student government, fitness supervisor, Islamic faith leader, and many more. Additionally, our "big sister" program pairs each older student as a mentor to one or two younger girls.
Time throughout the week is reserved for special programs, including virtual exchanges with other schools, visits by guest speakers and artists, and for attending cultural events at secure Kabul locations. Field trips are scheduled throughout the year.
Once classes are over for the day, all students participate in an exercise program led by a member of our faculty.
After dinner six days per week, SOLA student clubs hold meetings. Clubs include Debate, Student Government, Poetry, Entrepreneurship, Science, Futbal, Chess, News, Literary Magazine, and more.
After student clubs, all girls have mandatory study hall, which is monitored by SOLA dorm parents.
The day concludes with a “room circle," where roommates (6-8 per room) gather to discuss the highs and lows of the day.
2. A culture of shared learning.
“At SOLA, there are not first or second positions,” says Aisha. “Everyone is equal. SOLA teachers make all students speak.”
Aisha was 14 when she first set foot on the SOLA campus as a member of our inaugural 6th grade class, and she was not alone in her surprise at experiencing new ways of learning -- and of teaching.
Masaoda is an instructor in Science and Islamic Studies: “SOLA’s system is one I was never familiar with. For example, during our faculty meetings, we don’t talk generally; we speak about each and every student, one-by-one. We not only talk about how they are doing in the classroom, we are also very attentive to their well-being, even to the extent of reporting on their social interactions, whether they are eating well, what their unique personality characteristics are and how we can support their different leadership styles...[Teaching at SOLA] has been a really big adjustment, but it has been really worth it. It has really been a great experience, very new, but very fun, and exciting.”
SOLA’s small class sizes allow for regular group work, something that has made a strong impression on Aisha: “By yourself, you just have your own idea. In a group, you can learn the lesson very easily.” Aisha's classmate Sohaila adds, “Some students cannot learn as well from the teacher. Because of this, students can learn from each other.”
SOLA builds group work into the curriculum of each class to teach that learning is inherently social and understanding is to be shared, and students are given the opportunity to express what they have learned in multiple ways. Says Masaoda, “Here at SOLA, we take into consideration different aspects of what students contribute on a daily basis -- for example: class activity, homework, quizzes, final exams. There are other extra ways they can earn points and show what they have learned. We really try to be fair and just for our students at SOLA.”
SOLA's small class sizes prove beneficial in other ways as well: “In public school, teachers really can’t be attentive to student needs because there are 40 to 60 students in one class," Masaoda says. "They give their lectures and can’t really check if [the students] all actually understood what was taught, even to the extent where if students ask to repeat some part, teachers would mock the request saying ‘where were you when I was explaining?’"
Given these large class sizes, many teachers in Afghan public schools cannot monitor individual student progress and rely upon testing. In a system where progress is measured by exams, cheating becomes commonplace. “At other schools, students brag about cheating. They will say ‘Hey Mom, so many students cheated from me today!’ You are a hero if others cheat off you,” says Aisha, who even asserts that sometimes teachers accept bribes from students to adjust exam results.
In crowded classrooms, maintaining discipline also becomes a frequent distraction. Sohaila and Aisha shared that at their previous schools, many teachers brought a tool for whacking misbehaving hands, and some even wrote “lazy” on the foreheads of underperforming students. Teacher performance in the classroom is often unmonitored, and it seems that every student has a story of a teacher who lectured about a wedding party or a TV drama through an entire class period. Teacher absences are frequent.
As SOLA’s roster of students expands in the coming years, SOLA’s faculty will continue to grow in parallel. Says Masaoda, “My hope is that as our students are advancing in their grades, we continue to have professional, expert teachers in the subjects they are teaching, because the more students are advancing the expectation gets higher.”
3. A student-led surprise.
International Children's Day, as you might imagine, is always a very special day at SOLA -- but our celebration this year was unlike any we've ever had.
Our 7th and 8th graders took the lead in designing a surprise party for their 6th grade classmates: decorating our campus, preparing gift boxes for each younger student, and even performing a skit about children's welfare for the entire SOLA community (while in full costume, too).
We've selected a series of photos from what was a truly wonderful day -- click on any image to enlarge.