Franklin High School staff members Jessie Christensen and Monica Houtler picked up breakfast boxes for colleagues in Food Service at a pre-Ramadan breakfast hosted by Muslim parents.

Franklin High School principal Michael Vuolo’s voice came over the intercom Friday at 6:50 a.m. “Come on down to the staff lounge to get some breakfast and pick up some information about our students who will be celebrating Ramadan.”

Several mothers and daughters waited in the lounge in front of a table with 150 gold and white boxes, and small vases of red and white mini carnations. Behind the table, a “Happy Ramadan” banner, white with gold lettering, hung on a bulletin board. 

A quick flow of teachers came through to pick up breakfast before their classes started at 7:10 a.m. A few stopped when asked to take photos. Others briefly chatted with the parents. Some shouted, “Thank you so much,” as they dashed out the door.

Muslim parents and students treated FHS teachers and staff to boxed breakfast meals of Mediterranean and South East Asian food on the morning before Ramadan, a month when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset and celebrate the revelation of the Qur’an. 

Each box included a card printed with information and best wishes for a Happy Ramadan. It explained, “Fasting helps us build self-discipline, self-restraint, generosity and empathy for the poor, and strengthens our connection to God. We celebrate Ramadan because this is when The Hold Qur’an (our holy book) was revealed.” It was signed, “With Love & Peace, Muslim students and parents of FHS.”

Soon the flow became a steady trickle as staff and teachers without an early class came in. They stayed a few minutes to chat with parents, asking questions about the foods, Islam and Ramadan, and thanking the Muslim parents and students. 

Honoring school teachers and staff

FHS teachers and staff with Muslim hosts. Front row center: Sophomores Juwayria Khan and Nabeelah Syed, and sixth-grader Aisha Khan. Back row center:  Parents Sadia Akhtar and Arshi Wasiuddin.

“What could be a better time to thank these people who do so much for our children than in our holy month,” said Arshi Wasiuddin in a telephone interview with Wisconsin Muslim Journal a few days before the event. Wasiuddin’s daughter Juwayria Khan is a sophomore at FHS. 

Two groups of Muslim parents hosted breakfasts in Franklin schools. FHS parents offered the breakfast boxes Friday morning. Parents at Robinwood Elementary, a K4-5th grade school, served a breakfast buffet for 80 people on Tuesday.

“We made boxed meals to be picked up at the high school because teachers have different schedules,” Wasiuddin explained. “At Robinwood, the teachers had a common break so parents laid out a nice breakfast and they could choose whatever pleased their eyes.”

Parents of Robinwood Elementary students served American cuisine. “One of the parents mentioned that when people think of Islam, they think of the Middle East,” Wasiuddin said. “The truth of the matter is that Islam is for anybody and everybody.”

However, they did add dates, which are traditionally eaten by Muslims when breaking their fast, she added. 

“It is the first time we are doing something at this scale,” she said. In the past, some parents brought treats to their own children’s classrooms. This time they pooled their money and efforts to treat all the teachers and staff, she said. “It is the best way to create awareness for our holy month, a month all about caring for others, giving and sharing.”

Even Muslims without children in Franklin schools contributed. “A parent from New Berlin with kids in college and one in medical school heard about this and wanted to contribute. Another sister who doesn’t have any kids sent a contribution. They were so happy about the initiative.”

Muslims find Franklin schools welcoming

Left to right: Aisha Khan, Nabeelah Syad and Juwayria Khan at the pre-Ramadan “Thank you, Teachers and Staff” breakfast at Franklin High School.

Teachers said the Franklin School District has a good number of Muslim students. About 1 % of Franklin’s residents are Muslim, according to BestPlaces, a service that uses proprietary and public data to provide information about locations. That is a higher percentage than in other Wisconsin communities. In Milwaukee, Waukesha and West Allis metro areas, the Muslim population is estimated at .6% and Muslims make up only .3% of the state’s population, according to BestPlaces.

“One of the best things about the Franklin School District is its diverse community,” Wasiuddin said. “The school administrations are very accommodating of various religious beliefs.”

For example, Muslims should pray five times a day and one or two of those prayers will occur during the school day, she explained. The afternoon prayer is always during the school day and, when the days become shorter, the early evening prayer is as well.

Franklin schools give students permission to offer prayers then go back to class as long as they have informed the teachers and principal in advance, she said. In high school, there is a form parents need to fill out, she added.

They understand that during the month of Ramadan, Muslim students are fasting from food and drink from dawn until sunset, Wasiuddin said. Teachers and staff are open-minded and “love to learn,” she added. 

Sadia Akhtar, whose daughters Aisha Ali, a senior, and Laaibah Ali, a sophomore are FHS students, said, “We want to thank the teachers and staff, to show them we love the way they are doing their jobs. I felt happy we could do something nice for them.”

“We feel very blessed to have such a level of understanding and caring from the school district,” Wasiuddin said. “Teachers and principals are all very accommodating. We treated them to show our gratitude.”

Parents at Robinwood agreed. One said teachers asked how they can support students who are fasting and found a room where they can go at lunchtime. Some teachers shared facts the parents prepared about Ramadan with all their students. Some students learned their Muslim classmates were waking up before dawn for sahoor, a meal before fasting all day. Students in one class even decided to forgo snack time for the month to support their fasting classmates, she said.

At Franklin High School’s pre-Ramadan breakfast

Muslim parents and students prepared 150 boxed breakfasts for Franklin High School teachers and staff.

“This is our first celebration or event of this type,” said FHS Principal Vuolo, who is in his fifth year at FHS. “Our students asked if they could honor teachers and celebrate Ramadan. It’s very cool.”
Our mothers introduced the idea to us, said Juwayria Khan, a sophomore. “We were happy we were able to do it. Teachers told us they were really thankful.” 

FHS students Khan, Nabeelah Syed, Aisha Shahan, Aisha Ali and Laaibah Ali and parents Wasiuddin and Akhtar arrived at FHS Friday at 6 a.m. to decorate and set up the lunches. FHS educational assistant Dian Febriastuti, a Muslim, also helped with organizing, planning and set up. They stayed to greet teachers and staff until they had to go to class.

After picking up a box, Andy Misorski, a special education teacher, told WMJ he knew about Ramadan from students. “For a lot of students, it is an important event in their lives. Fasting takes a lot of self-sacrifice and discipline to do it with integrity. 

“I give the students a lot of credit. It’s not easy. We sometimes forget, or don’t always have on our radar, the things having an impact in their lives.”

“This is so fancy,” exclaimed Amy Dwyer, FHS school psychologist, when she saw the display and meals. Like Misorski, she has learned about Ramadan from students. “They teach me a lot about their cultures when we are working through problems.”

She turned to the mothers and students. “Happy Ramadan,” she said before heading to her office.

Substitute teacher Randy Bennett (left) and FHS school psychologist Amy Dwyer (right)

Monica Houtler and Jessie Christensen each picked up several boxes. “These are for our colleagues in Food Service,” Houtler explained. “We are used to making meals for others. We don’t often have something made for us. It’s nice.”

Principal Vuolo loaded a cardboard box with the breakfast boxes for custodians on second shift. “I want to make sure everybody gets some,” he said.

Randy Bennett, a former high school teacher from Racine, was at FHS Friday as a substitute social studies teacher. “When is Ramadan?” he asked.

“It starts tonight,” Wasiuddin said. “We use a lunar calendar. When we see the tiny sliver crescent of the moon, we know Ramadan has begun.” 

Bennett continued asking questions that the Muslim mothers and students answered.

“How long is the fasting?”

“About 30 days. We have one meal each day at sunset and the next one before dawn.”

“Is ‘dawn’ the same as ‘sunrise?’”

“No. Dawn is earlier. We stop eating before the sun rises.”

“What are other Muslim holidays?”

“Eid at the end of Ramadan and Eid after the pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca.”

“Do you have a feast on Eid?”

“Yes, we do.”

“I hope there will be more events like this,” Bennett said.

“There will be,” Wasiuddin replied.