Last Friday night, over 80 attended the seventh annual Somali Education Night, an event founded by Mahamoud Wardere and held at the Somali Education Center in Minneapolis. The Somali Education Center offers not only afterschool programs for students in grades K-12, but also adult education and summer programs. Wardere said that the event was organized because he wanted to help Somalis get a better understanding of how to access a good education.
The focus this year was specifically on higher education, to have “students exposed to the university,” according to Wardere—who has worked as a teacher at Washburn High School, is a formal mayoral candidate, and has worked as a representative for Norm Coleman’s St. Paul office. Representatives from five colleges were present to give information and answer questions about their respective colleges: the University of Minnesota, the University of Phoenix, Normandale Community College, St. Cloud Technical College, and Minnesota State University at Mankato.
“Teachers want to learn and understand, but they often don’t know how.”
At the event, a series of speakers gave students a wide-ranging view of the importance of education. Speakers included Sagal Mohamed, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota (and a former student at the Somali Education Center); Susan Staats, a math professor at the University of Minnesota, who has worked with the SEC in developing math curriculum in Somali; Carleen Gulstad, the 2008 Minnesota Teacher of the Year; Shamso Farah, a parent and an SEC Board Member; and Ali Aldeed, a professor of chemistry for 35 years at the Somali National University. Concluding the event was a discussion, conducted mainly in Somali, about the importance of—and barriers to—education.
One point highlighted in the discussion was the necessity of helping Somalis overcome the linguistic and cultural barriers that they might face going into a Minnesota classroom. While Gulstad, who teaches language arts at Hopkins North Junior High School, strongly encouraged students to respect and value where they come from, she also argued that the onus was on Somalis to make themselves more available to their teachers. “Teachers want to learn and understand,” said Gulstad, “but they often don’t know how.” Farah also addressed the involvement of teachers in their students’ lives, as well as the parents’ responsibility in helping children succeed.
The principal overall theme of the event was the importance of dialogue between communities. Both Wardere and Janelle Eberhard, program administrator at the SEC, agree that college is important. “Education is a ticket for where you want to go in life,” said Eberhard, citing the link between college completion and economic well-being. At the same time, Wardere and Eberhard emphasized that teachers and universities need to value and be sensitive to the history and culture students bring with them.
Justin Schell is a freelance writer and a grad student at the University of Minnesota’s Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program. He’s working on a dissertation on Twin Cities immigrant and diasporic hip-hop and plays the washboard tie with The Gated Community.