“A Landmark Occasion”: St. Paul Unveils Groundbreaking East African Magnet School
On Wednesday, September 6, 2023, Suleiman Ismail embarked on his first day of third grade at East African Elementary Magnet School, after transferring from Quantum STEAM Academy. The students who arrived by bus that day were expecting to meet their teachers, make new friends, and settle into their new school routine. Little did they know, they were also making history as the first students to attend St. Paul’s East African Elementary Magnet School.
Superintendent Joe Gothard, standing outside the school, acknowledged the significance of the day, not just for St. Paul Public Schools but also for the nation. He emphasized the importance of cultural responsiveness in meeting the needs of families and providing the desired education for their children.
Opening East African Elementary Magnet School in just three months was no small feat. The task was entrusted to Abdisalam Adam, a longtime St. Paul educator and first-time principal. The school aimed to attract new families and help address St. Paul’s declining enrollment by offering language support in Arabic, Amharic, Swahili, Somali, Oromo, and Tigrinya. On Tuesday, the school opened its doors for the first time, with 80 percent of its 256 students being new to the school district.
Abdisalam Adam, alongside Superintendent Gothard, expressed gratitude for the collaborative efforts that led to the school’s success. He emphasized that the recognition should be attributed to the aspirations of generations of families who have chosen the United States as their new homeland.
Inside the school, Mohamed Hadi, a Somali cultural specialist for the school district, highlighted the community’s inspiration to advocate for a middle school and high school after witnessing the swift establishment of the elementary school. He noted that the new school’s mission resonated with families and made them feel at home and comfortable.
As students trickled in, some experiencing transportation difficulties, they settled into their classrooms. In the third-grade classroom, children enjoyed breakfast and engaged in a morning worksheet focusing on rhinos. Some students sought guidance on locating the bathrooms, while another requested a Band-Aid.
Abdisalam Adam made an appearance to greet the class and offered words of encouragement, urging them to work hard, achieve good grades, and make their parents proud. One student confessed to forgetting the school’s name, to which Abdisalam jokingly responded that they could just remember “East African” for now.
Meanwhile, Keng Xiong, a third-grade teacher with a Hmong story cloth tattoo on his arm, expressed excitement about teaching in the district where he himself attended school. Despite not sharing the same background as his students, Xiong believed he could still connect with them and their immigrant parents. Drawing from his own experiences, he understood the importance of pronouncing students’ names and their family members’ names correctly. Xiong was pleased to see a high level of parental engagement and hoped that it would continue throughout the year, emphasizing that he wanted the students to feel loved and welcomed, as well as their families.
Overall, the opening day of East African Elementary Magnet School marked a significant milestone for St. Paul Public Schools and symbolized a commitment to cultural diversity and inclusivity in education.