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Rayan Mohamed, a Henninger high school student, rushed to prepare her college applications in October. The senior, who immigrated to the United States seven years ago, said she assumed the college application process would take a day or two, but quickly learned that was not the case.
“I thought it was like an easy process,” Mohamed said. “But then I found out how hard it was when I was under pressure trying to finish (applications) on top of schoolwork and all my classes.”
The senior said if the Syracuse City School District had cultural advocates to work with high school students who are New Americans and their families, she would have known to start preparing for the summer before senior year.
The North Side Learning Center is where a group of about 10 high school students from Syracuse, including Mohamed, meet on Thursday nights to work on public speaking skills. Since the group began in August, they have identified issues facing immigrant students in the Syracuse City School District and developed speeches to present to the school board.
Mohamed, co-head of the NSLC speech team, said she and the other two students – Yasmine Kanaan senior of Nottingham High School and Ladan Farah junior Henninger – gave speeches about hiring body advocates faculty for immigrant students, paying more attention to student mental health. health and to grant all SCSD students time off for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
In Mohamed’s speech to SCSD board members at the April board business meeting, she requested that the school district hire a faculty advocate for each school in the city with African students. . The elder added that students need an advocate to convey certain aspects of school life to their parents and to keep immigrant students informed about university opportunities.
“Because there’s a lot of things that aren’t said in schools, and that’s something we can’t talk about. So we want someone who can speak for us,” Mohamed said.
While the school district has hired “nationality workers” to help refugee and immigrant students navigate the school, Brice Nordquist, who has worked with NSLC for about eight years, believes the program has not met expectations.
Nordquist, Dean’s Community Engagement Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Composition Studies at Syracuse University, works with team coach Andy Ridgeway. He said the school district continues to need staff in all of its schools who work closely with refugee students and are culturally aware of their needs.
“What the debate team members are hoping for is people with deep cultural knowledge,” Nordquist said. “This advocate is not just to help support education, learning, or family access to schools, but also to advocate for things like…Ramadan and prayer spaces.”
Farah spoke to the board about putting more measures in place to track student mental health, which she says could take the form of more faculty advocates who know the cultural background. Muslim students.
Farah, Mohamed and Kanaan have been attending the meetings since January, Kanaan said. Farah thinks that if they keep coming back every month and talking during the session, the council will listen and accept their requests.
Mohamed added that the school board doesn’t make changes very quickly, so the speech team has time to rework their speeches before each meeting they attend.
While the three students have attended board meetings since January, they have only spoken to two of them so far, Kanaan said. The Nottingham elder is advocating for SCSD to recognize Eid al-Fitr – which marks the end of Ramadan – and give all pupils in the school district a day off.
Over the past decade, nearly 7,500 refugees have arrived in Syracuse, many from Muslim-majority countries like Somalia, Syria and Iraq. Despite the widespread Muslim community Kanaan has seen growing up in Syracuse, she wonders why the SCSD hasn’t recognized Eid al-Fitr when the nearby Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District has already decided to do so the year last.
“We have a nearby suburban school, Jamesville-DeWitt, they have Eid,” Kanaan said. “But, schools as diverse as SCSD have massively large refugee and Muslim populations. Why didn’t we turn it off? »
Nordquist agreed with Kanaan’s sentiment that the SCSD needs to do a better job of scouting the largely growing Muslim community in Syracuse.
“There is a need for more kinds of recognition of the large number of SCSD students who are Muslims and also the cultural practices around that,” he said.
Not having holidays puts Muslim students in a difficult position when holidays conflict with exams, Kanaan said. This year, Eid al-Fitr falls a few days after the National Advanced Exams, so while she would like to start celebrating early, she will have to pass her exams first.
Although Kanaan said she had teachers who were unaware of the importance of Eid al-Fitr when she entered high school four years ago, many of them learned the traditions Muslim women and help her work on the homework she misses during the holidays.
Although members of the speech team do not yet know if their requests will be approved, they will continue to attend meetings throughout the school year in the hope that future generations of students will benefit from their advocacy. .
“I hope one day we can bring about change and be the voice of these children,” Mohamed said.
Published on April 25, 2022 at 10:33 p.m.
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