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The Grass is Greener in the Green Zone

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Alumni Return to King’s as Faculty Assistants

Green Zone

It was one of those magical moments where the universe is planning and you’re planning and you actually cross paths. It rarely happens in life but it happened for me.” Hamzeh Al-Qudah ’10 speaks from his apartment on the King’s Academy campus, where he has been living and working since the end of October. As part of the first graduating class of King’s (and of the Summer Enrichment Program [SEP]), Al-Qudah had been planning for years to return to campus to give back to the place “where I grew up.”

At the beginning of October, 2020, he got his chance. The school announced it was actively recruiting alumni for a new on-campus position to support faculty during the Green Zone. Announced on September 24, the Green Zone established a campus safe zone by inviting all faculty, Upper School students and some essential staff to move onto campus, which was “sealed” from outside interaction, effectively preventing the virus from permeating campus.

The Green Zone allowed campus residents to breathe a mask-free sigh of relief following the cohort quarantine and social distancing stages, which had been put in place to ensure that the virus was eliminated from within the campus walls. However, faculty found they were tasked with an overwhelming number of additional duties during the cohort quarantine. “It was like school was 100 percent,” says Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning John Leistler. “The faculty was burned out.”

Enter the faculty assistants. Five alumni joined the fall Green Zone, quarantining for two weeks before jumping into action Halloween weekend. Another two alumni joined in the spring Green Zone. Each faculty  assistant was assigned to work with two departments — academic or administrative — as well as to assist with co-curriculars and the Learning Center and to carry out dorm and weekend duties.

The main task required of the faculty assistants was simple: find small, immediate ways to relieve the pressure on faculty. Being separated from family for an extended period during a global pandemic is stressful, and part of the charge of the faculty assistants is to serve as “moral support” for any members of the community who seem disengaged, stressed or anxious, explains Leistler. 

Education up close

Green Zone

Most of the faculty assistants saw the position as a good opportunity to explore education as a potential career path, before committing to a more demanding role.

“Being a faculty assistant is a good way to dip your toes into what it’s like to work at a school,” says Ahmed Khalayleh ’15, who is co-teaching a course with Head of School Peter Nilsson and working with the Department of Communications. Ever since tutoring Chinese students at Williams College in Massachusetts, Khalayleh has been interested in teaching, but wanted a chance to see how a school works behind the scenes.

After graduating from college in May 2020 with a degree in electrical engineering, Jamal Hourani ’16 faced an uncertain future as the world was in pandemic turmoil. Hourani wasn’t as sure as Khalayleh whether he wanted a career in education, but he still has learned a lot about how a school runs, which has changed the way he looks back at his King’s experience. He recalls watching two math teachers discussing a class activity in the teacher’s lounge. “I thought it was amazing because I never noticed that teachers would collaborate to come up with new or more efficient ways of teaching. I didn’t realize that teachers learn from each other,” Hourani says.

Coming back to give back

Green Zone

Of the eight faculty assistants, three had already returned to campus to assist with the Summer Enrichment Program. “The interviews had one wonderful thing in common: they all spoke movingly about how they want to give back to King’s,” says Leistler.

Zena Abu Elezam ’18 is one of the former SEP counselors. She is juggling her on-campus responsibilities while remotely completing coursework for her business information technology degree at Princess Sumaya University for Technology. “When I came to King’s, I was a completely different person. The school helped me in many ways, so I always wanted to give back.”

Al-Qudah is emphatic that “King’s shaped who I am. King’s allowed me and empowered me to think of what I want, what I want to be and how to get there.” For Al-Qudah, returning to King’s was not a question of if, but when. While the COVID-19 pandemic derailed some of his plans — trapping  him in Turkey for three months after Jordan’s borders were closed during what was supposed to be a one-week trip — being part of making the Green Zone successful “makes the work worth it.” While every other school in Jordan was online, King’s was able to keep its in-person classes and activities due to the work of community members like the faculty assistants.

Same home, new school

Green Zone

The youngest of the faculty assistants, Abu Elezam is still friends with several of the seniors who were freshmen during her final year at King’s. While she enjoys continuing to get to know students in her new role, she has especially come to love connecting with other members of the King’s community. “Most of the teachers and many people in administration live on campus, you get to know the entire family and you form bonds. It’s not a workplace, it’s a second home to me,” she says.

Laura Jonsson ’16, meanwhile, is finding ways to rekindle her hobbies at King’s. While studying human biology at Stanford University, Jonsson took art classes that she wasn’t able to take at King’s due to her twice-daily Arabic classes. Now, she’s co-teaching 3D Studio Art I and II, coordinating with the lead teacher who lives off campus. “It’s really fun to be in a space I had wanted to be in as a student, but didn’t have the capacity to take at the time,” Jonsson says.

The alumni perspective

When Hourani was a student at King’s, he faced “a lot of difficulties,” including a language barrier, time management issues and the university application process. As a faculty assistant, Hourani is able to relate to the students, assuring them that he knows how they feel. “The students get so excited when I tell them I was a student here,” he says. “It’s like there’s someone in the faculty who understands where they’re coming from and what they’re going through.”

For Khalayleh, this connection with the students is crucial to the King’s experience. While speaking to Beyond King’s, a student yelled a cheerful greeting out to Khalayleh across the square. “That’s one of the reasons I came back!” Khalayleh laughs. “It’s the kids. I’m really feeling the joys of teaching here and it’s something that I want to continue.”