It's 4 a.m. in East Africa as Omar Mohamed signs on to Google Meet. He is there to discuss his book with Horizon West Middle School students and their parents. There are thousands of miles between Moorhead, Minn. and Kenya, Africa. With an opportunity this rare, how did it come about?
Incredibly, this event happened because of not just one but two connections that spanned oceans and continents. As it turns out, Mohamed knows both Ahmed Issa, MAPS Somali liaison and Horizon West Middle School teacher Abdiweli Ibrahim. All three met in Africa years ago and Ibrahim was one of Mohamed’s teacher’s there.
When Horizon Middle School made plans to begin a new book club, Issa used social media contacts to reach out with an invitation. The book club is a part of Project Lit, a national student-centered book club that brings students, educators, family and community members together to discuss meaningful inclusive books.
Mohamed's book, "When Stars Are Scattered," is a graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp. It illustrates Mohamed's childhood experience, while taking care of his nonverbal brother. It's told from Mohamed's perspective and is co-authored and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson.
Ibrahim says, “It was incredible to have him meet with our students here at Horizon West." The students gained a deeper understanding of important topics by discussing the book with their peers and the author. Mohamed's big takeaway for the students: how one small act of kindness can change a person's life forever.
This was a unique opportunity for fifth-grade students and their families, students were bright-eyed and full of questions for the author. The event was a hit for the students, families and staff. Following the event, students wrote thank you notes to Mohamed, expressing their gratitude.
Students gain valuable insight through stories and experiences of others. “This event allowed students to acknowledge the challenges of refugees and immigrants pursuing education and lives in the U.S.,” Ibriham says. "Even more so, it enables them to understand and help their classmates who are from outside the U.S.”
Horizon West Middle School plans to host two more Project Lit Book Clubs in the 2020-21 school year. “This multi-generational, cross-cultural, virtual event was a true joy to witness come together,” says Kari Yates, elementary learning and accountability supervisor. “It is an example of the innovative work we are able to do with the support of our Comprehensive Literacy State Development grant paired with the collaboration and creative thinking of committed staff members.” Horizon West team members behind the scenes, facilitating this experience included Dan Dooher, Media Specialist; Lexi Lundberg, Family Engagement Specialist; Lisa Melby, Literacy coach; and Ben Dimond, Assistant Principal.