On January 8, 2010, the Somali Weekend School holds its first classes. The privately organized school is is held in West Seattle in space provided by the Denny International Middle School at 8402 30th Avenue SW. The classes are offered on Saturdays and Sundays. Begun as a partnership between Jeff Clark, principal of Denny International Middle School, and two Somali Americans from the High Point community, the program seeks to help Somali immigrant students acclimate to American schools, improve their academic achievement, and encourage them to continue on to college.
Seattle's Somali Community
Seattle's Somali community has grown from just a handful of students and professionals working in the Seattle area to thousands of immigrants who have come to this country following the collapse of Somalia's central government in 1991. Many of these immigrants spent years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before moving to the United States. In the camps, refugees did not have access to formal education. Children who spent years in the camps missed the opportunity to become literate in their native language.
Upon their arrival in Seattle, the immigrant children have entered Seattle's public schools. They and their parents have experienced difficulties with language, culture, and understanding how American schools operate. Seattle Public Schools has hired a community liaison who helps with orienting parents and students and bridging the cultural divide between home and school life.
Denny International Middle School in West Seattle has seen a large influx of Somali students in the past few years. In the 2009-2010 school year it had about 100 Somali students and expected that number to at least double in the next year. In addition to wanting to help the new students, Denny Middle School principal Jeff Clark also sees them as an asset to the school, adding to the school's diversity.
In order to succeed, however, the Somali students need extra help. In 2009 two Somalis from the High Point community, a mixed-income development in West Seattle that includes public housing, some of which is occupied by Somali immigrant families, approached Jeff Clark to suggest starting a program to help the new students.
The Program Begins
In January 2010 the new program, the Denny International Middle School Somali Weekend School, began offering classes each weekend to Somali immigrants in kindergarten through high school. The program works to instill a positive attitude toward school, emphasize the importance of continuing on to college, teach basic Arabic literacy, improve English literacy and math proficiency, increase the students' understanding of their Somali cultural background, and improve study skills.
The program is all volunteer-run, including the teachers and principal Jeff Clark's regular participation. When asked why he was willing to volunteer his time on the weekends, Clark responded "the commitment to social justice is a lifestyle" ("City Stream").
Successes and Achievements
In addition to helping the students achieve academic success, the program also hopes to have them share their cultural background with their fellow students at Denny. One idea that has been proposed involves installing a herd of goats on the school grounds. This would enable the Somali students, who often come from agricultural backgrounds, share their goat herding expertise.
The program saw successes in just a few months. One student, Zahra Noor, interviewed for "City Stream" on the Seattle Channel said, "I feel like they're my family ... I used to get all Es [a failing grade] and now I get all As and I'm proud of myself" ("City Stream).