Building Cultural Bridges Between Families and Schools

By Office of Communications
Employee News
March 08, 2024

Raheel Ahmed-Litz (third from right, standing) is pictured with her family, including her husband Jeff Litz, (second from right, standing) principal of Marshall High School. 

Raheel Ahmed-Litz has approximately 60 years of history with Fairfax County Public Schools. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan — her father in the late 1950s and her mother in the early ‘60s. Raheel and her siblings were born in Washington, D.C., and she and her mother have lived in Northern Virginia since 1968 (her siblings have since moved elsewhere). She is proud to have graduated from Fort Hunt High School (now Sandburg Middle School). 

Raheel describes her upbringing as “very strict.” She was expected to dress modestly and wasn’t allowed to attend sleepovers after the fifth grade. Her family spoke Urdu at home, and there was a shared understanding that older siblings looked out for the younger ones. She even served as her brother’s guardian for a while when her parents were out of the country.  

Because of some of her experiences as a child of an immigrant family, Raheel feels passionate about helping families “who don’t feel seen or heard,” she said. “I feel called to be the person who supports them and gives them a voice. I remind them that they are not alone. I want all FCPS families to understand and utilize all the wonderful resources and services we offer in FCPS and through our partners in Fairfax County; to ensure the best educational experience possible.” Raheel Ahmed-Litz

Raheel works as a member of the Cultural Outreach team and the responder to the Urdu language phone line. She also facilitates Loving Solutions, a 10-week family education program. 

“Many families with whom I work do not necessarily understand how an American public school operates,” she said. The most rewarding part of her job, she says, is building a “cultural bridge” between families and school staff. 

“I am always ready and willing to educate people on Islam or South Asian culture,” she says. “Over the years, I have found that there are many assumptions and stereotypes out there about Islam and South Asians. I take great pride in being able to educate people about my culture and religion so that there can be open communication and collaboration between all our families.” 

Raheel’s work is continuing a push begun by her parents 50 years ago. Her parents tried to get Ramadan on the FCPS calendar and worked to educate the school system on why their family fasted during the day. 

“I took over their push for this addition to our calendar in 1985,” she said, “and FCPS added these holidays to the calendar in 2016.” Since then, the calendar has also been expanded to add the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. 

“Respecting everyone’s beliefs is important,” she said. “I think the most important thing for people to know about Muslims is that we are committed to treating everyone with kindness, understanding, and respect. We want to be treated in the same manner. I am proud to serve in a school system that is so diverse because we get to share and learn about each other’s culture. This can only bring us together and make us stronger.”

Favorite Ramadan Memory

a vintage, 1960s photo of a family gathered around a model of a mosque.
Raheel, left, her sisters, and mother sit by the mosque her mother created to decorate their house for Ramadan in the mid 1974s. 

“Since we were the only house in the neighborhood that didn’t have a Christmas tree. My mother made a mosque out of boxes and wrapping paper tubes which sat in front of the fireplace, says Raheel. “We put it up and strung lights at the beginning of Ramadan and kept it up from Eid-al-Fitr all the way through until Eid-al-Adha. 

“It is tradition to give envelopes filled with cash, called ‘Eidi.’ Any other gifts were wrapped and placed in front of our mosque to be opened on Eid. Even now my family tries to get together for either Eid lunch or dinner. 

“This is the first year Eid (Wednesday, April 10) is a holiday for everyone at FCPS, not just for students. My immigrant parents are so proud of me for not just continuing to lobby for recognition, but also actually incorporating our observances and celebrations into my daily work and accomplishing this in their lifetime.”