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Accommodating and Educating Somali Students in Minnesota Schools

Accommodating and Educating Somali Students in Minnesota Schools book cover

I don’t know about your school district, but my school district is still facing many challenges in regards to behaviors and culture bumps with our EL population, especially with out Somali students. This is why when I was introduced to this book at the MELED conference, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase it. 

The book itself is easy to read and very short. At a total of 76 pages, plus the bibliography, it can easily be read in one sitting. The text is broken down into short vignettes, historical facts, and cultural and socioeconomic demographics, which are very easy to digest.

While it is from 2004, and I believe that the Somali student demographics have changed, there are still some valuable lessons for teachers that can be found in this book. 

What Teachers Can Take Away

1.    The vast history of a country devastated by multiple wars, years of occupation, and several colonial changes of power have played a large role in how Somali families view the world. 

2.    Somali families sometimes live with extended families in their homes. This can cause some of our students to not have the available space to work or study alone. It can also mean that often times our students are doing at least some tending to family duties. This can also become a greater stress when the families are poorer and live in a smaller apartment. 

3.    Names. Yup, you still need to get them right. There is no excuse for messing up a student’s name even on day one. Compare it to how annoyed you get when a telemarketer calls and mispronounces your name. If you don’t know, just ask. 

4.    Homework and forms that are sent home should be translated and possibly relayed in a different format, like a phone call. This doesn’t just apply to our Somali students. Recently I met with a family who wanted to do more with their child at home but were concerned about not being able to read in English. 

5.    Parents want to be involved. Just like with homework, we need to get creative in how we can easily communicate and involve all parents in their children’s lives in regards to the education system. 

6.    Set expectations for behavior and involve parents in that process. Many families come from a very different cultural and educational background. Sharing with them our own limitations, expectations, and ways that we hold students accountable can help them understand and support us better. Often times I have noticed teachers are upset by a parents lack of support. This text suggests that this may be due to lack of clarity and understanding rather than lack of support. 

7.    “Disrespect toward women is not a Somali cultural value.” This is a quote directly from the book. It also mentions that it is abuse of a teachers lack of understanding of Somali / Islamic culture for a student to use that as an excuse. 

The most important thing I learned from this book is that the more we know about each others cultures, the more we can lay down successful school foundations. By knowing and understanding where each student is coming from, we can effectively teach them and lead them to bigger and greater things rather than just focusing on behaviors and wasting time. 

Accommodating and Educating Somali Students in Minnesota Schools is available on Amazon, Half Price Books, and other book retailers. 

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