Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Struggles of Finding Culturally Relevant Literacy Practices for Somali Students: Teachers' Perspectives

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Struggles of Finding Culturally Relevant Literacy Practices for Somali Students: Teachers' Perspectives

Article excerpt

Research indicates that few papers describe the struggles and complexities that teachers of refugee students, especially those of sub-Saharan African origin, experience in their effort to teach literacy to these students. Understanding these struggles is important in order to provide a glimpse as to how individual teachers are making sense of a particular group of newcomers' ideas, languages, social behaviors, ideologies, and ways of seeing the world. The specific case of Somali refugees contribute to our understanding of the extent to which today's teachers and policymakers, are prepared for the education of different kinds of refugee children. To shed more light in this process, I conducted a study to examine the experiences of K-12 teachers who are directly involved in the education of Somali refugee students. Specifically I raised two questions: 1) What has been the nature of teachers' struggles to teach literacy to Somali students? 2) What strategies do teachers use, successful or unsuccessful, to maintain rigor and keep their Somali students engaged and excited about reading and learning in general?

With the widespread adoption of common core standards, which focus more on the outcome rather than the method (Halladay 6c Moses, 2013), there is a need to understand the unique struggles and complexities that literacy teachers of Somali students experience this article examines the struggles of literacy teachers in their efforts to educate Somali refugees in general as they are adapting to the resettlement school system. It is my hope that this will bring more attention to the struggles of literacy teachers of recently arrived Somali refugee students in U.S. classrooms, a particular group of students who have been found to underperform in schools, based on a variety of outcomes.

Historical Context for Somali Refugees

Since the early 1990s, the United States has received an increasing number of African refugees, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these recent African immigrants to the U.S. come from cultures vastly different from the mainstream culture of earlier immigrant arrivals from Europe. They have far more challenges, such as critically low levels of schooling and chronic posttraumatic stress. Among these immigrants resettled from Africa are an increasing number of refugees from Somalia, owing to the civil unrest that has continued to plague that nation for more than two decades (Adams Sc Kirova, 2007). It is important to note that due to this civil unrest that has spanned more than four decades, the Somali Bantu have been the perpetual victims of overt discrimination in housing, education and employment. They have been seen as second-class citizens living on the periphery of society. As a result, many of these individuals have acquired little or no formal education. In addition, many of these refugees have spent well over a decade in the perpetually congested Kenyan refugee camps, since Somalia is not safe to return to (Roxas, 2008; Gichiru, 2012). At times, the United Nations has stepped in to relieve the already overburdened host nation, Kenya, by resettling some of the camp residents to other countries. Refugees who are resettled in the U.S. do not live in refugee camps. Rather, they must find their way to integrate into local communities. One of the main avenues where Somali refugees are acculturated is in the schools (Adams Sc Kirova, 2007). Teachers are then left to interact with and educate students they understand little about (Gichiru, 2012).

Given new challenges, American educators are forced to rethink their moral responsibilities in order to provide quality education for all children, including new arrivals, like Somali refugees (Ladson-Billings Sc Tate, 2006). Thus, the policy makers, educators, and scholars of education in the U.S. are grappling with the question of how to teach all students equitably and effectively (Brown, 2006). It therefore makes sense that in order to meet the nation's goal of high quality education for all children, including resettled refugees, one of the central questions in education in the United States today is how to best prepare teachers to teach all students successfully. …

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