Two days after the end of school in June, four Minneapolis educators plan to head off to a different kind of summer school.
Three teachers and a Somali-born bilingual aide from Anne Sullivan Communication Center plan to fly to Somalia in a quest to better understand the background and educational needs of Somali-American students who make up 60 percent of the school’s enrollment.
They’ve raised $10,000 of the planned trip’s budget, but still have $6,000 to raise. They’ve established a web site where they’re appealing to the public for donations.
The belief giving rise to their travel is that they can better understand the needs of their students if they have a chance to learn more about the culture from which they spring. About 30 percent of Sullivan students are refugees.
The four travelers are associate educator Ayan Mohamed, who was born in Somalia, and teachers Kaitlin Lindsey, James Kindle and Laura Byard. All four work with English learner students at Sullivan.
Their two-week itinerary includes school and home visits in Somalia, Ethiopia and possibly Djibouti. They’re hoping that a deeper knowledge of Somali language and culture will help them build stronger relationships with their students and their families.
They're building on connections gained through Mohamed and her extended family. She left Somalia at age 10 and will return for the first time at age 32. She's working as an associate educator at Sullivan while pursuing licensure to teach English learner students, which she expects to obtain this year.
Besides improving their own teaching, the Sullivan travelers plan to create what they’ve dubbed a Somali Newcomer Toolbox for other teachers. It will include a summary of their travel blog, sharing assumptions that were challenged and insights they gained; a visual presentation of recommended changes in teaching to benefit Somali students;a database of still and video images that teacher can use to make learning materials more relevant to Somali-American students, and adaptations of standard district curriculum to connect better with those students. They also plan presentations for Minneapolis teachers before school opens next August, and one the following spring for other Minnesota English learner teachers.
The educators already have invested considerable time in trying to become more competent in teaching refugee students. Three are enrolled in a Somali language and culture course. They visit student homes to build ties with families. They’ve independently studied Somali literature.
The major funding for the trip comes from a $10,000 grant obtained through AchieveMpls, the local administrator for the national Fund for Teachers.