Newspaper article MinnPost.com

More Young Somali-Americans Are Choosing Careers in Education

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

More Young Somali-Americans Are Choosing Careers in Education

Article excerpt

In recent years, Said Garaad has seen an increasing number of Somali-Americans in Minnesota who are choosing careers in education.

Most of those joining the field are young people who grew up in Minnesota and received their first taste of education in urban classrooms filled with immigrants and refugees learning the English language, said Garaad, School Success Program Assistant at Minneapolis Public Schools.

"These educators know what it means to learn in urban schools," noted Garaad, who has been working with Minneapolis Public Schools for more than 10 years. "They're now coming back to work in the same school system they left some years ago."

Teachers, counselors, social workers

Many are getting their licenses in teaching, while others are becoming school counselors and social workers, explained Garaad, who is currently pursuing his master's degree in school counseling at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He said that he's also aware of other Somali-Americans who are attending education programs in universities throughout Minnesota, training to join the 69,529 licensed staff in the state's education system.

The number of Somalis resettling in Minnesota has more than tripled in recent years, according to various reports, and as a result, school districts are seeing streams of Somali students. While many of these students -- whose parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s and 2000s -- are American-born, others are coming from refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Abdirashid Saney, a counselor at Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul, has one explanation for the reason more Somali-Americans are joining the education work force: the demand in Minnesota for licensed teachers who are also competent in the Somali culture.

"Three or four years ago, there were a few Somalis with licenses in the entire state," said Saney, adding that most of them were foreign-educated teachers. "These days, more are seeking and earning professional licenses required in the education field."

The EAST program

While some Somali-Americans -- like Garaad and Saney -- pursue their education programs without the support of special programs, many are taking advantage of innovations aimed at diversifying the teacher work force in Minnesota.

Those initiatives include the Collaborative Urban Educator (CUE), a decade-long funding stream that the Minnesota Legislature appropriated to produce more teachers of color, in hopes of closing the widening achievement gap between the state's white students and students of color.

"Closing the achievement gap is a major and persistent challenge in public education today," stated signers of a document [PDF] in the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. "Education experts agree that increasing the diversity of the teaching ranks improves student achievement in many settings because it provides students with teachers who can better empathize with their backgrounds and life experiences."

Augsburg College is one of several institutions in Minnesota that have received funding to address the scarcity of teachers of color. Three years ago, Augsburg established the East African Student to Teacher (EAST) program to graduate and license K-12 teachers of East African origin.

The state allocated the EAST program $395,000 -- which comes from the K-12 budget -- to train students in its program, who receive a 100 percent tuition waver. …

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