Send Grant-Winning English Language Teachers to Somalia

Send Grant-Winning English Language Teachers to Somalia

From Kaitlin, James, Ayan, and Laura Sullivan

Four Minneapolis teachers, who received a $10,000 grant, need $6,000 more to visit Somaliland, Djibouti, and Ethiopia, so they can improve educations for East African students.

Kaitlin, James, Ayan, and Laura Sullivan

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If you would like to see our entire grant, please view it here

Here is our story: 

People learn best when they feel safe and respected and when they can connect new learning to their own experiences. All students possess funds of knowledge, valuable life and academic skills learned by virtue of being members of their communities or strengths gained through cultural experience. Effective teachers understand these strengths, so learners feel supported and can meet their academic goals. As teachers at a school where 60% of students are Somali and 30% are recent refugees, we strive daily to create instruction based in our knowledge of students’ cultures.

Our team consists of one primary grade (K-1), one intermediate (3-5), one middle school (5-8) English language (EL) teacher, and one EL teacher-in-training and bilingual Associate Educator. Two team members are National Board Certified teachers and two are Multilingual Department team leaders. One established a program in which newcomer refugee Somali ELs can learn English and academic content in a setting that includes interaction with mainstream peers while providing connected services such as bilingual support, family education, and optional mental health services. The widely-respected program is expanding to meet needs of increasing numbers of Somali refugee families. In these and other respects, we act as leaders in our school and district, supporting colleagues as we grow ourselves.  

As teacher leaders, we already strive to treat students as whole learners to build community, model best practices, and impact student achievement. The three non-Somali team members attended a Somali language and culture course, and we visit students’ homes to learn about their experiences and build relationships with families. We have participated in educational opportunities featuring Somali community leaders, independently studied Somali literature, and created resources to help colleagues better meet the needs of Somali students. Yet a visit to Somalia is a huge opportunity to deepen our understanding of Somali culture and the lived experience of internally displaced persons.  

Our trip will enable us to answer the following questions central to our strategic plan for EL program leadership:

  • What cultural, linguistic and content knowledge assets may students possess by virtue of being Somali or being refugees or displaced persons?
  • What misconceptions do we possess about Somali culture? How might we revise our own perspectives and support colleagues in doing the same?
  • What teaching practices can we add to improve the quality of our instruction?
  • What is the role of the school, and the relationship between students, teachers, and families, in Somali culture? How do intersections of race, class, language, religion, culture, and normativism impact that relationship in our practice?

As we grapple with answering these questions, we will improve our ability to collaborate with Somali community leaders and to act as members of a team of cultural liaisons among diverse staff and students.

We earned the $10,000 Fund for Teachers AchieveMpls grant; however, that amount does not even cover our air travel. We still need funds for ground travel and lodging when we are not staying with relatives and friends. We appreciate your support!

Link to AchieveMpls:

Link to Full Grant:

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