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CCCE education grant encourages community engagement in Faribault

< for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) and Educational Studies Department have received nearly $100,000 in federal research funding to study the experiences of immigrant high school students in Faribault.

Amel Gorani, director of CCCE and Anita Chikkatur, the Chair of the Educational Studies Department, will be working closely with Faribault High School (FHS), along with the organizations Somali Community Resettlement Services (SCRS) and Community Without Borders (CWB) on the grant. SCRS is a public charity agency that assists Somali refugee and immigrants with accessing healthcare, education, legal protection and other resettlement services. CWB is a non-profit organization in Faribault that works to empower immigrant communities.

Gorani and Chikkatur aim to learn more about the experiences of Somali and Latinx high school students in Faribault and how to build a community that embraces the town’s increasing diversity. “With the demographic shifts, there are lots of different opportunities to do things differently,” Gorani said. Their larger goal of this collaboration with the Faribault community is to build unity and address issues in an area that has seen huge changes in demographics. “School districts have had to deal with that change, so the purpose of this research is to have the communities explore their own issues, identify these issues that are priority questions for them are, and then do the research to find the answers to the questions,” said Gorani.

This grant will allow the Faribault school community to further address the way they foster inclusivity and embrace their cultural diversity. Chikkataur said, “It’s not that we’re going there to ‘help,’ but we’re going there to learn how to work with [people] to build on and increase their own capacities to think about [others],” Chikkatur said.

The grant comes from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that funds civil society programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. CNCS is the nation’s largest annual grant-maker and is dedicated to responding to crucial issues communities face across the U.S. This is the first time the federal agency will be funding participatory action research—i.e., FHS will be able to explore, via student and teacher participation, their own areas of interest and fully analyze their experiences to understand what works and doesn’t work at the school.

“The whole idea of participatory research is that the community most affected by whatever problem you’re studying gets to decide how to frame the problem, investigate the problem, and propose solutions,” Chikkatur said. “It gives us a lot of flexibility [with] what we will be working on to make it what they need and something that’s actually helpful and useful for them.

“It is a framework to think about research but that can actually involve any method of research, so it can involve interviews, surveys, focus groups [and] oral histories so that part of it will be determined by the question that they ask and what they want to find out.”

Faribault’s demographics have changed markedly the past ten years and it has become a majority-minority school district. According to a Carleton College press release, in 2010, the population of students of color in the district was 25%, and in 2018, it was 55%.

Out of 200 schools across the United States that applied for the grant, Carleton was one of only two small schools—along with Smith College—selected for it.

12 FHS students of color, several parents and six teachers have already been selected to help lead the research. Throughout the next couple months, they will attend meetings and figure out the direction of their research so that, by March, they identify their focus question and appropriate methodology.

Chikkatur said that she hopes “the students, teachers and staff are able to come up with some concrete things that the school can do differently in the next two years [in order] to think about creating [an environment] that’s inclusive and culturally relevant for all their students.”

Carleton faculty and students will attend the meetings to provide assistance, but the overall goal is for students and parents to eventually facilitate the conversations on their own. Chikkatur and Gorani are working to identify Carleton students bilingual in either Spanish and English or Somali and English to take notes during meetings and help with the research efforts.

This research has strong potential to benefit the Faribault community. “Oftentimes we come from academic institutions with a set agenda, so this is honoring the expertise and knowledge that’s already in the community and giving them the opportunity to set the research agenda and findings,” Gorani said.

Chikkatur added that the research is meant to help the students “figure out how [to] bring [their] voices together to build power and organization amongst [themselves] it’s about helping communities develop capabilities and expertise and being able to propose solutions.”

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