Advocating for the needs of Somali families is becoming a bigger priority at South


Ellie Barnett-Cashman

South students and staff helped out at the Somali family needs assessment meeting to make sure it ran as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. “I love that it was a collaborative event where there was teacher, social workers, counselors, admin, and other support staff in the meeting space so I felt empowered after that meeting,” said Raqiya Mohamed.

Ellie Barnett-Cashman, Staff Writer

For the first time ever, Somali families were invited to South for a meeting specifically oriented to discuss the needs of Somali parents for South students. The room was filled with supportive parents, seeking better education on the systems at South and advocating for the needs of them and their children. “They are advocating to be a part of this community,” said Ali Osman, a Gear-Up Coordinator.

More than 30 parents attended the meeting, some who even brought their young children. This is the biggest turnout from the Somali parents that most staff can remember “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big group of people show up in one meeting to sit down with admin,” said Osman

Gear-Up Counselor, Raqiya Mohamed also added, “We usually get a very low number of Somali parents coming out…It was nice that they came out and they could hear about what’s happening in school and for us to hear their concerns.”

This meeting was a stepping stone to more Somali involvement at South. Although Somali parents are encouraged to attend events, it can be hard to make a space where they feel comfortable. “At other events, there are some [Somali] parents who do show up, but that sense of feeling lost at the event or not really grasping or feeling a sense of belonging [is always there],” said Mohamed.

“It’s great that we have those schoolwide evening events and we have interpreters at those events or support staff that speak in those languages but I think it’s also important and really critical that we provide these spaces for the smaller communities,” added Mohamed.

One of the main focal points of the meeting was discussing how parents can be more involved in their child’s education; helping them maintain good grades, attendance and behavior. “I encourage you to pay attention and take responsibility… I encourage you to pay attention to your student and to their grades and make sure you know how they’re doing,” said Abdirashed Elmi, Family Liaison and coordinator of the event.

Parents agree that this is very important and want to advocate as best as they can for their students education. One parent, Saadra Hussein said “I was here today to know where my child is at and how he’s doing at South and how to help him get a better education.”

The education of various academic systems at South can be very confusing to newcomer parents and families, especially when they don’t speak the language. “A concern that I was hearing was the lack of parent education. Parents don’t understand many systems that are placed here at MPS district,” said Mohamed.

Administration, representatives and parents at the meeting hope to change that and make it more accessible. “It would be nice if the media center could at least give them 30 minutes of showing them how to use [things like] the parent portal so those parents at least have some knowledge of how to support their kids in terms of academics and attendance,” said Osman.

Hussein would like a space for specifically Somali students to get homework help after school hours. “I would like if they could have a program after school for students who need help with their homework in the classes they need to be helped.”

The other main topic of discussion during the meeting was adapting a private prayer space for Muslim students. Currently, Muslim students pray in the hallways, aside from Fridays, where they’re given a room. “Prayer is one concern that I kept hearing in that meeting and safety and ‘how our kids safe when they are praying in corners of South High’,” said Mohamed.

As a part of their religion, Muslim students pray every day, and it’s very important to parents that they are safe while doing this. “A lot of students pray during school time hours and our students pray in the hallway so there was a lot of concerns or a lot of safety issues that were coming out. A lot of [people] were asking to find a room to pray during the school days,” said Osman.

Hibo Ahmed, a parent of a South student said “it helps for our students to know we have power so we can also find a place for them where they can pray.”

Staff is currently working on establishing a room that would fit these needs, they call it the Reflection Room. “The reflection room is a safe space for Muslim students to go out and perform their daily prayer duty. The month of Ramadan we would be expecting a lot of students to join the daily prayer,” described Osman.

It is still in the process, and there are various problems yet to work out, but administration has promised to work to make it happen. “We’re not sure where that room’s gonna be at and who’s gonna be there to be in charge but when we talked to admin they were very aware of it and willing to help students to find a safe space,” said Osman. Mohamed added “They working towards it now.”

In the future, they hope to continue to have meetings like this, and expand options for Somali families. “I hope in the future we’re able to provide more meetings and more educational/resource meeting where we’re sharing information with them,” said Mohamed.

The parents agree that they would like the opportunity for more meetings similar to this one, but would like to even expand the amount of parents who attend. “I hope that the amount of people who came to the meeting today will double or triple at the next one,” said Ahmed, who later added that “the next meeting is going to be bigger than [it was] today.”

They aren’t quite sure what the platform will look like in the future, but the leaders are persistent about coming back with more meetings. “I hope next year to do something quarterly based… it’s still something we’re discussing and it’s not finalized. We hope that this is a continuum and that we are addressing these parents needs in a timely manner,” said Mohamed.