Immigrant Education Rights Project

Ibrahim MumidIn 2004, immigrant students and their parents who attend Abraham Lincoln High School began working with CrossingBarriers to advocate for better education services in the school. Abraham Lincoln High School, located in Minneapolis, is overseen by the Minneapolis Public Schools alternative programs division and directly managed by the non-profit organization called the Institute of New Americans.

After several community organizing initiatives, CrossingBarriers facilitated student concerns to a higher level of management at local district and state levels. The students took charge of their own advocacy to improve the way English Language Learner students receive education in this school.  Students sued the school and took the school all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. CrossingBarriers facilitated, coordinated and supported the  a lawsuit against Minneapolis Schools regarding the provisions of an adequate education for immigrant students. We challenged the warehousing of immigrant students in poor performing alternative schools–which failed to provide students with disabilities reading and writing problems in appropriate educational settings. CrossingBarriers also amplified the voice of immigrant students and impacted the Minneapolis School System by finding appropriate ELL courses for students. As result, the school district was pressured to make significant structural changes to improve the way immigrant students, especially those students in English Language Learner classes, are educated.  This was the first time immigrant students took a school district to the U.S. Supreme Court in Minneapolis.  These were 14 students who amplified  the voices of over 9000 students whose home language is not English or who were stuck in English Language Programs and were not moving forward.  As a result, the District closed the schools they sponsored that were failing immigrant students.  For the first time, the district adopted a policy at the board level to implement best practices of English Language Learners Curriculum.  A new staff were placed in the school before it closed and brought licensed teachers which the school did not have before, text book, arts program,  hot lunches and special needs services. These were services and programs school need to have by law.  The youth in the law suit organized,  continued to  advocate and bring visibility to the issue which was missing in our community at large. They   began to speak to their peers and community members  in the  Latino, Oromo and Somali communities through immigrant based media  so the youth can be aware and find better schools.  Students were trained by CB to present their cases to the Board of  Minneapolis Public Schools,  Minnesota Department of Education and to the legal system.  After this lawsuit,  many schools in the metro  began to make improvements  the way they educated  immigrant students and re-evaluated their programs to provide quality education.  This advocacy, community organizing and youth training gave birth to the vision and mission of CrossingBarriers. This was the first time immigrant students took legal action as a group to fight for their civil rights to receive equal and quality education.  This advocacy and organizing led to visibility, awareness and amplified the voice of  low -income immigrant communities struggling in the public schools.  This case, Ibrahim Mumid, et. al, v. Abraham Lincoln High School, et. el made history and was the seed to many groups organizing to address their own schools and many school paying attention to the cost of not  providing  quality education to immigrant students and those  enrolled in English Language Program.  In 2007, Journal of Law and Politics  named this case  the case of the year in their article, ” The Land of Lost Opportunity.”

To see an article about CrossingBarriers’ work with students from Abraham Lincoln High School, click here.


Research and Advocacy Project

CrossingBarriers has developed a partnership with the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota to conduct research and advocacy for immigrant students.

Through this research, we conducted focus groups with African students from Somalia to learn about their educational experiences attending public schools in St. Paul and Minneapolis. The goal of this research was to advocate for needs that had been ignored by the school systems and to create awareness of issues facing students. Students were forthcoming about the structural exclusions they had faced under the administrations in the public schools they  attended. Many male East African students also complained about mistreatment and profiling by the local police. As a result, we helped organize workshops with local police officials and African student unions to address the concerns of students, improve communication between the youth and police, and educate East African youth about their rights and responsibilities. This initiative had an impact both on the community police officers and the students, as they became more comfortable talking about the challenges they face in their relations and how to overcome them. This has led to more meetings between student leaders and community police in an effort to better relationships. In addition, we continue to work with the youth to educate them about their rights and responsibilities as community members and leaders.

Students Against Violence Project

In 2008, CrossingBarriers began training and supporting a student advocacy group called Students Against Violence. The group consisted of Somali student leaders from University of Minnesota engaging Somali youth in Saint Paul and Minneapolis high schools’ after school programs to prevent youth violence. These students wanted to create strategies within the community to stop “youth on youth violence and shootings in the Somali community”. In the past, they protested the negative impact of violence in their community, mobilized and organized over 300 students through outreach, created a public awareness campaign to educate the youth, and fostered better communication between parents, elders, and youth.

dsc08746Their goal is to contribute to local and state government policies regarding youth crime prevention policies, to be a voice, create positive impact, and nourish support systems for underprivileged youth living in disenfranchised neighborhoods lacking adequate youth services and after school programs. Students addressed policy makers, developed strategic plans, attended workshops on community organizing, navigated local political/legislative systems, and improved project management skills.


Eden Prairie Education Project

Immigrant student leaders, parents, and community advocates from Eden Prairie, Minnesota have been working in their community to improve the quality of education immigrant students receive in the public schools. These student leaders are working on shifting the perception the mainstream community has about the immigrant population and new arrivals in the community. They are bringing together school administrators, students, and parents in order to address systemic problems that are affecting the quality of education and the educational environment within their schools. These systemic issues are lack of quality English Language Learner   curriculum, barriers to advanced placement/college credit classes,  lack of parent communication, lack of cultural sensitivity, and lack of a healthy school environment for students to succeed. Our student leaders have successfully organized students and parents  in the Eden Prairie School District and have been empowered to voice their concerns to school administrators. The school district agreed to work with students to make changes needed to improve the quality of education.

One of the major accomplishments of the Eden Prairie School District Project has been the completion of a video in which immigrant students spoke passionately about the challenges they face in Eden Prairie schools. This video has been incorporated into ethics training sessions for Eden Prairie administrators and teachers.

Another major accomplishment has been the designing of a work-plan and recommendations by the students for the school district to follow  in order to improve the policies and practices that are holding students of color back, such as removing barriers to enter advanced placement classes and improving ELL so students can get out in due time and enter mainstream classes and higher level reading and math classes, instead of remaining stagnant in ELL courses.

Another accomplishment has been the establishment of workshops on education organizing that teaches youth and parents how to advocate in their specific schools and the steps to take to address current issues within the system. Parents are assisted in successfully navigating themselves through the school system, as well as working together toward common goals.  As a result, barriers were removed in advanced classes and students were not  held back in ELL classes.

In 2011 and 2012, the Eden Prairie Education Project lead to the creation of  CCAG which is the Coalition to Close Achievement Gap in Eden Prairie Schools.  Here immigrant parents and white parents from the same schools  began to work together to create after school academic improvement program and summer program at Central Middle School.  As a unit they began to advocate for students that were struggling in the schools  and to improve and implement  the policies that were in place to close the achievement gap.  This was the first time, immigrant and white parents worked together.   They were able to have a greater understanding of each other and how they need to advocate together to improve the quality of their schools.

Cultural Stereotypes

In 2009, the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network approached Student Leaders at CrossingBarriers about developing a film project. The cooperation resulted in this short film which addresses the problem of cultural stereotypes.

 St. Paul Education Project on Bullying

In Saint Paul, we connect and reach out to diverse immigrant and non-immigrant students of color such as Hmong, Oromo, Somali, African American  and Latinos that want to address emerging issues in the schools and other services which impact youth. Bringing together diverse youth and leaders will enhance the power to address challenges and bring about positive change that can be achieved through the unification of the communities in common issues of education and mainstream barriers.

Student leaders of the St. Paul Education Project worked to  address the issue of bullying in their neighborhood high schools, helping parents who have language barriers learn how to navigate the schools successfully, and conducting youth group sessions to address issues that concern them in the community through focus groups and leadership development workshops.  High school student leaders from Central, Highland Park, Como High, Gordon Park High School, and Murray Middle School conducted over 105 surveys from high school students to get their  feedback and recommendations on bullying prevention.  Students learned how to design and implement surveys among their peers , outreach and recruit students.  As seen in this photo, students  organized after the training and  presented their findings and recommendations to the Board of  St. Paul Public Schools to  improve anti-bullying policies and procedures across the school district.   The students leaders recommended  to increase youth voice and input when it comes to implementing bullying policies district wide in addition to involve student leaders  in education awareness initiatives in school and after school programs, and to educate teachers  about bullying prevention and awareness.

CrossingBarriers conducts the following presentations and workshops to local schools, teacher training programs, community centers, and student organizations.

  • The risks and rewards of advocacy  and community organizing through community partnership.
  • Issues in education relating to students of color who are are not succeeding in public schools.
  • A child’s right to education.
  • Working with ELL students.
  • Improving police relations for immigrant youth and students of color.
  • Suggestions about working with English Language Learners.
  • Public engagement in low-income communities.
  • Issues, the need for civic engagement, and advocacy strategies of CrossingBarriers