Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, Co-Principal of Deering High School in Portland, sat with Amjambo’s Jean Hakuzimana for a conversation about a wide range of questions on the education of immigrant kids. Below are some excerpts: 

Amjambo Africa: Can you tell us what you think community members can do to help immigrant kids in school?  

Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed: School requires a lot of effort, and a lot of engagement, and motivation. And, you know, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child. The area that immigrant communities can work on is to help parents to get more involved in the education of their children. Parents need to pay more attention to their students and how they are doing, and not count on one-way communication from the school. Parents need to have contact with teachers, with school administration, and get involved in school affairs, and the educational process of the children. Read with your child, if possible. And keep up continuous communication with the children about how they are doing at school, and monitor their progress. Another thing is that we need to have many more mentors – people who were here before, or older kids mentoring the younger ones, adults who are in the community mentoring the teenagers – the kids in high school and middle school. As a community, we need to come together and support each other, and support our children because this is the future of our community.  

Amjambo: Research has shown that when kids from communities of color see a principal or a teacher who looks like them, they tend to perform better. As someone who is from a minority community, and who is a principal in a school, have you seen this yourself? 

Ahmed: It’s the right thing to have people in a position of power who look like minority students. This is very empowering for the children. Having the staff who work with the students look like them can lead them to succeed in school. For example, students feel motivated to become a teacher if they see a teacher who looks like them. And for students to have a social worker at school who looks like them – they then feel like they can [grow up and be] a social worker. Or if they have a principal of the same color as themselves, they too feel they can be principals. That’s why I’d like to ask other community members, maybe in different fields – you know, nurses, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, businesswomen, social workers, people who already have jobs – “If you can, please step up and mentor kids, and talk to them, and show them that, yes, it’s doable. Yes, you are someone. Yes, you can do it. I did it.” That role modeling is very important.