MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - There is a new effort underway at Minneapolis Public Schools to make sure Somali students know and understand their language and culture.
"There's no shame in being bilingual," said Deqa Muhidin, the MPS district program facilitator. "It’s an asset and we want them to celebrate that."
MPS says there are about 4,000 students in their school system who self-identify as Somali, but many don't know their native language or are discouraged from using it at school. The district will launch a Somali heritage language program on Friday to teach them greetings and conversational phrases they can use in their everyday lives.
"A lot of times, kids will do anything to fit in and that often means giving up parts of their culture and that has led to an identity crisis," said Muhidin.
Minneapolis South High School already has a Somali language program for 9th-12th graders. The district will add similar classes at Lyndale Community School, Anne Sullivan School and Heritage Academy, which the program's developers believe will make it the first K-12 Somali language program in North America.
"In that class they get to hear stories in Somali, learn how to read in Somali alphabet," Muhidin said. "We hope that by learning Somali they will be able to support their other academia they are learning in English."
Muhidin hopes learning their native language shows Somali students how rich their cultural heritage is.
"I think this is a wonderful program," she said. "I think this is a legacy. I hope we continue in the state of Minnesota and I hope other schools replicate this."