MARSHALL - Students at Marshall Public Schools have a strong support system available to them thanks to the assistance of two minority advocates who work hard to provide a bridge between school and home for each of those students.
Through their work, minority advocates Gustavo Estrada and Faduma Masoliah help supply students and their families with countless opportunities that might not have been available otherwise.
"I work with parents and students," said Estrada, who has been a minority advocate for Marshall since 1998. "For me, the best part about my job isn't the money. It's about satisfaction, to work with kids who have dreams."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Minority advocates Faduma Masoliah, left, and Gustavo Estrada take a moment to pose in between working with students Tuesday afternoon at Marshall Public Schools.
According to Superintendent Klint Willert, Marshall has a large number of minority students. It's also a very diverse minority group, as 24 different languages were spoken by students this past school year. For that reason, the district found a way to recently hire an additional minority advocate.
Faduma Masoliah began working as a minority advocate on Oct. 8, having spent the past four years working with Iftiin, Marshall's East African immigrant community organization.
"It's busy and wonderful at the same time," Masoliah said. "Gustavo has a lot on his plate. I'm just so happy that in Marshall, diversity is accepted and it's appreciated. It's a beautiful thing."
Like countless others, Estrada expects Masoliah to be a huge asset to the school and community. Both of them will be working with kindergarten through 12th-grade students and oftentimes, their parents, since they can make or break a student's educational experience.
"I'm very lucky because she has already been working in the community as a liaison," Estrada said. "She had been working with schools, entities and parents already. She has the skills, so it's really helped me."
Estrada also pointed out that Masoliah is a dreamer, too, which he appreciates.
"Dreamers take you to good places, to good stuff," he said. "She has a dream to someday buy a house. To me, this is a good dream, a dream that everyone would like to have. You can do it, but you have to work hard and you can get it."
While dreams and hard work can accomplish a lot, the minority advocates said, students also need guidance.
"They are smart kids, it's just that sometimes, they give up," Masoliah said. "To have this program and tell them they can't give up, that it isn't an option, is amazing. It's wonderful to be able to have them focus in a different light and help change their lives."
Masoliah has resided in Minnesota for the past 15 years, having attended school in Minneapolis. But unfortunately, until she came to Marshall five years ago, she never realized that there were support systems available to minority populations.
"If my generation had this, it would have been amazing," she said. "A lot of my friends dropped out because they said it was just too difficult and they weren't getting the help or assistance they needed. To have such a program back then, I can just see how many of my friends would have stayed and would have gotten far."
Many of those friends are now going back to school to get their GED and regret dropping out, Masoliah said, though she understands the frustration they felt back then.
"I'm blessed to help make that difference right now," she said. "The best part is just to have that satisfaction, seeing the kids succeed."
Estrada's main goal, he said, is for the students to finish high school and to go to college.
"It's not about making more money," he said. "It's about being better educated."
To succeed, though, students have to make connections in their environment and also have the opportunity to showcase their skills. While Estrada and Masoliah meet with students during the school day, they also advise student activities and clubs afterward that help students on their educational journey.
"I do programming, counseling, home visits and work with parents and students and school staff," Estrada said. "I also work with community stuff, too, and help create student groups that are there to for empowerment and participation."
The Marshall High School student organization called Cultures in Power began right along with Estrada, in 1999. Two years ago, Estrada also organized a G Club for fifth- through eighth-grade students in the district.
"I meet with them and we plan things to do during the school year," he said. "Right now, there are 48 students in G Club and they're planning an activity for the whole group. For some students, they are already leaders. But they don't have the chance to use those skills."
While organizing an activity, the students are also working on their leadership skills, including skills like public speaking, planning, organizing, working together and responsibility.
Even though the students are having fun while planning an event, it's what is behind that matters, Masoliah said.
"They're getting very important skills," she said. "And as they grow, the skill will always be with them. To have these skills as they succeed in life is really a wonderful thing. I am just blessed to be part of that, to be with these kids as they grow and as they learn this."
Along with a fifth- and sixth-grade program that focuses on helping students to improve their knowledge and test-taking skills in the areas of math and reading, the minority advocates are also working on a family support group for the parents of Marshall students. A meeting for parents is scheduled from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday in the MMS theater.
"My goal is to see how we can empower parents or people in a way that they can get the skills, they can participate or know we are open to work with them," Estrada said. "They may even have the skills but don't know how to participate in the school or the community."
The hope is that the minority advocates can connect parents with a particular program or organization if needed.
"We're hoping they show up because it's a big step," Masoliah said. "They can get that support, come together to meet each other and be a huge community where they can assist each other, figure out what resources are out there and improve their skills. The more skills, the more job opportunities, more opportunities period."
Masoliah and Estrada also hope to encourage more parental involvement in the school system.
"The language barrier often keeps parents from being involved," Masoliah said. "On top of that, there's fear that they're not understanding the system. They don't want to overstep a boundary. They're not sure of what to do. I think that's their fear."
In some countries, Masoliah said, parents basically hand their child over to the school during educational hours. Parents are not necessarily encouraged to be involved in the school process. The other issue, she said, is that parents are often occupied with financially supporting their student.
"Parents are often working so hard to support their children," she said. "They're thinking, 'OK, I have to put food on the table.' With a single parent, their main focus is on how they can support their child. Even though they want to be involved more in their daily activity, they have to make a choice."
The program was made possible in part by a $10,500 grant from the United Way of Southwest Minnesota.