Hamtramck schools embrace community initiatives, gear for Census count
By Nargis Rahman – YAN – Hamtramck
Last Wednesday I sat down with the Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Jaleelah Hassan Ahmed to discuss parent and student engagement projects and how the district will work with the City of Hamtramck and the local Census committee to get everyone counted for Census 2020. Jaleelah previously served as the school district’s English Language Development (ELD) Director from 2016-2019. She has been an educator for more than 22 years.
Read our interview below:
Q: What are some ongoing projects in the district?
A: We started the school year to bring everybody together to understand what is our “why?”. Organizations that understand their purpose seem to be more successful. We explored the “why?” with our district’s staff and admin during our August Welcome Back Breakfast.
Q: How do the businesses in the community contribute to HPS?
A: We have [an] excellent partnership with the businesses and organizations in the community. They have sponsored many of our events. Among them are: Royal Kabob, Maine Street, Caesar’s Pizza, Rima’s, Boostan Cafe, Yemen Cafe.
Q: How can parents get more involved in the school system?
A: Research supports that the more parents are involved in their child’s education, the more successful their child will be. We’ve been working hard since my previous position as an ELD director to create a parent engagement program. We have liaisons and school and community facilitators. The entire team works to support all populations and ethnicities.
We are working toward moving our immigrant populations from cultural survivors to leaders. We are pushing them toward volunteerism and hopefully, that will help them get jobs.
Q: Are there Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) in the district? How can parents sign up?
A: Unfortunately, we are not at that level where we have a PTO. The more familiar and confident our parents are, the more we continue to create this partnership and strengthen the relationships. I can definitely see us leading to that level.
Q: How do parents resolve issues at their schools?
A: We value the chain of the command: speak with the teacher, then the principal. At some point we include liaisons or facilitators to provide support, especially if there is a language barrier or cultural misunderstandings.
Q: Are there any upcoming internship opportunities in the district?
A: We are excited about a summer school internship with DTE with hopes to extend that internship throughout the school year.
Q: Is the district providing district-wide halal food for the school lunches?
A: We’ve had issues at the elementary level where some students eat something and then later find out it’s not halal. We felt it would be the right decision to make sure that we offer halal foods to our students. We started serving 90 percent halal food in October. Admin feels comfortable knowing that students aren’t going against their dietary guidelines. We are still at 10 percent of non-halal because of the transition and costs. We are proud to offer a variety of foods for different dietary needs.
Q: How much of the student population eats halal food?
A: 70-80 percent. In our district, we have a huge population of students that are Muslim and have that dietary need.
Q: How is HPS working with the local Census committee to get counted?
A: We’re pushing to make sure that everyone is counted for Census 2020. It’s important for parents to understand and have that information. The funding will help the city and the schools. We provide information in multiple languages. We’re looking for volunteers. We want representation across the board to understand and be familiar with the information.
Q: Is the school district providing facilities to complete the Census?
A: We have a strong partnership with our city. We have joint meetings and we are looking forward to providing either the venue or the support staff for this initiative.
Q: Are there any ongoing student engagement projects?
A: The student engagement voice committee is working on a project this year to improve the restrooms, and programs to offer more advanced courses. This is based on the students’ needs. Their voice counts, they matter.
Q: How is HPS working to retain students?
A: Parents have requested an Arabic curriculum. We are exploring that option. We are also looking to expand a variety of different programs to prepare students for different paths to be college and career ready.
Q: What would you like parents and students to know about HPS?
A: We care about each and every one of our students. The school leaders and central office staff are a dream team. They are just remarkable people to work with, support, and they are dedicated and committed. In addition, we have paraprofessionals, food and service, parents and community members.
Note: The interview has been edited for brevity.