Between Here and about how Afghans are navigating life in San Antonio after the war.
Like many recent Afghan immigrants, the Shinwari family was evacuated by the U.S. before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in the summer of 2021.
Mursalin Shinwari was an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan before the withdrawal.
I worked as a translator for the U.S. Army for almost three years, said Mursalin,
sitting cross-legged on the rug in his San Antonio apartment with his toddler on his lap.
Mursalin now works at San Antonios halal grocery store. He and his wife Basmina have five children under the age of 10. She filmed the conversation with TPR on her phone while their baby leaned against a big cushion next to them and drank from a bottle. Their older children watched cartoons nearby.
Camille Phillips
Mursalin Shinwari poses for a photo with his five children on the ornate red rug in their San Antonio living room. His wife, Basmina stays out of the photo due to their beliefs about women being photographed.
The main room of their apartment in the medical center was covered in a wall-to-wall plush red rug. They took their shoes off at the front door and sat on the rugs to talk and eat. They offered a loveseat couch for guests. A clock on the wall listed Islams five daily prayer times.
Mursalin said their oldest two children, Yasar and Sana, were enrolled in school back in Afghanistan, but they didnt go very often.
Many times, parents are afraid that they send their children to the school in Afghanistan so the Taliban will kill them the Taliban will … blast their schools, Mursalin said.
Rather than risk their children being attacked on the way to school, he said he and his wife often decided they were safer at home.
Camille Phillips
Sana, Yasar, and Ilyas Shinwari watch cartoons in the their family’s apartment.
Then, when they arrived in the U.S., the Shinwaris lived on a military base for months without access to school.

There were not facilities of education in the military base. So, they lost their education and experience with education, Mursalin explained.
By the time they arrived in San Antonio about a year and a half ago, Yasar and Sana had some catching up to do.
But Mursalin said schools here are like night and day compared to Afghanistan. They have resources and school buses and English lessons. And theyre not worried their children will be targeted for getting an education.
Yasar just finished second grade at Mead Elementary; Sana was in first grade. Sana said her favorite thing to do at school is draw but shes also learning other skills.
I speak English. And I [learn to] be kind to my friend, Sana added.
She explained that she recently went on a field trip to the zoo. There was [a] giraffe and [a] lion and ducks. There was lots of ducks.
Camille Phillips
Mursalin Shinwari gives a bottle to his baby girl, Nida, as she leans against a big read cushion in the living room.
The Shinwaris live in an apartment complex near San Antonios medical center, like many refugees and immigrants who received help from resettlement agencies when they arrived. That proximity gives them a community that follows them to school.
Yasar and Sanas school, Mead Elementary, is just up the hill from several medical center office buildings. Its one of five elementary schools in the Northside Independent School District with
Newcomer classes
, which are specially designed for children whose education was disrupted by war or persecution before they arrived in the United States. Mead has one Newcomer class per grade.
The program is designed to give the kiddos a smaller ratio per teacher. Plus, we have an instructional assistant that rotates through all of the six classes, said Mead Principal Amanda Garner-Maskill. It’s a little bit of a slower transition. Academics and the rigor is still there, but it’s not necessarily at the same level as where the age of the child is versus their grade level.
More than half of Meads 800 students speak a language other than English at home. In addition to the Newcomer classes, the elementary school has bilingual classrooms for students who speak Spanish. It also offers traditional ESL classes for students who speak other languages but dont have refugee status or a pathway to asylum.
We have about 100 Newcomers in our in our campus right now, and I would say about 90% of them are Afghan refugees, Garner-Maskill explained.
Its a trend she said she doesnt see changing anytime soon about half of their Afghan Newcomers arrived this year. Students have up to two years in Newcomer classes before theyre slowly transitioned into traditional ESL classes.
Garner-Maskill said it was common for her office to be filled with three or four adults when she meets with Afghan parents mom, dad, and whoever in the family or neighborhood speaks the best English. She said Afghan kids are accustomed to playing pretty rough with each other, and she often has to explain to parents that there are different rules at school.
I had a conversation with a family earlier in the year. They were cousins, and they were very handsy with each other. And the dad’s like, It’s okay. I’m like, No, dad, not in school. It’s not okay, Garner-Maskill said.
Northside has a district Newcomer liaison that meets with families and helps them enroll. Lately, a lot of their work has involved deciding what age their children are and therefore what grade they should be in. Afghans dont celebrate birthdays, so Garner-Maskill said sometimes deciding their grade can be tricky. Northside also pays for a remote interpreter service.
Camille Phillips
Mead Elementary’s 3rd grade Newcomer eats lunch in their classroom during a half day in May.
On a half day in May, Meads third grade Newcomer class ate lunch in their classroom before going home.
Girls in headscarves shared separate groups of desks from the boys but all of the kids shared their favorite chips.
Takis are the thing, Garner-Maskill said. It has been the phenomenon here, agreed their teacher, Aria Pluck.
Takis are spice, explained one of her students with a satisfying crunch.
The students were excited to see a TPR reporter’s mic and headphones they use similar tools to practice English. The children crowded around to speak into the mic.
Salaam alaikum, shouted one student, as another leaned around to shout a greeting too.
Camille Phillips
Students in Mead Elementary’s 3rd grade Newcomer class try out the audio equipment used to record their class for TPR’s story.
Pluck was new to teaching a year and a half ago when her class enrolled at Mead as second graders. She stayed with them this year when they moved up to third grade.
Because most of her students werent in school before coming to the U.S. or attended rarely shes teaching her students to read, in addition to teaching them English.
Some of the first data entries that I have of their reading levels was just … very pre-beginner [or] beginner … and now