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A Space of Respect and Refuge: Somali Voices in Faribault After-School Programs
Introducing SPOTS and STOPS
On the ground floor of Faribault High School, across from a gallery of smiling varsity athletes, there is a door that leads into an oblong room. The space is painted green, the color of the Faribault Falcons – the walls are covered in posters, student names they have painted on the walls. Large Tupperware full of magic markets, scissors, and tape, sit on the cabinet by the door. There are desks with computers on either side of the long room.
T-shirts for the theater group “Students Performing on Tough Situations” or “SPOTS” and the service group “Students Together Providing Peer Support” or “STOPS,” line the wall, covering the short ends of the rectangular space. The room is often referred to as the STOPS or SPOTS office, named after the student groups that meet there. The space has been supervised and run by Youth Development Coordinator Eric Sandberg, who oversees SPOTS and STOPS, as well as an array of other activities.
SPOTS, is an issue-based drama group composed of 9th-12th graders and open to all students. Students put on performances on topics such as drug/alcohol abuse, violence, family trouble, safety, and social skills. 1 The performances, always free, target audiences of every age. Theater educators come to Faribault High School in the beginning of the year for a three day training on acting and performing, and continue to learn through student-led rehearsals. STOPS is a student-run organization and STOPS members act as community role models: completing 55 hours of community service each year, and committing to staying drug, alcohol, and tobacco free. The student group leads and participates in various awareness and safety activities for the community, such as the “Chemical Health Week,” the “Black Light Dance,” and the “Seat Belt Challenge.” 2
“STOPS (Students Together Offering Peer Support),” Faribault Public Schools, accessed June 2, 2014. http://www.faribault.k12.mn.us/activities/stops.aspx ↩
“Faribault High School SPOTS (Students Performing On Tough Situations),” Healthy Community Initiative, June 2, 2014. http://northfieldhci.org/post/6055 ↩
SPOTS and STOPS: Finding a Home at Faribault High School
Hanan is a Somali student at Faribault High School who has been involved with SPOTS and STOPS. In the fall of 2015 she will head to Gustavus Adolphus, a selective private college near Mankato, Minnesota. Hanan explains how SPOTS was the first group, organization, or volunteer group she joined. Reflecting on her time in FHS, Hanan says that SPOTS was the first group she felt that she could be part of. She reflects that this is not uncommon experience; many other students find their first experiences with organized extracurricular activities in SPOTs and STOPS. Both groups, she describes are non-exclusionary. She reflects:
“It’s a group that accepts the outliers. You know, student council and stuff, they don’t really accept outliers…. it’s hard to get into those groups because you need to be voted into that group and all that stuff. But the thing about this certain group is that you don’t have to be voted into it. You talk to your friends. It’s those people that don’t usually feel comfortable joining groups that usually join SPOTS.”
STOPS and SPOTS, Hanan explains, are some of the only groups that accept students of all races. She explains:
“They are the two groups in our school that allow Mexicans, Somalis, special-ed kids. The one group that doesn’t discriminate. I know all school organizations shouldn’t discriminate, but there is kind of an unwritten rule that ‘hey, its not for you. This group is not for you.” But, the thing about SPOTS and STOPS is basically saying, however you are, however you look. This group is for you.”
Ultimately, she reflects, SPOTS and STOPS have been places of refuge. In the audio clip above, Hanan reflects on the significance of her time in the two student organizations in her own voice.
SPOTS, Hanan says, has been a place of home and comfort at Faribault High School. In an environment that is not always hospitable, SPOTS was a place of refuge. Hanan explains:
“…When I got involved in STOPS it was honestly my outlet, I felt like I was at home. At home being I felt like I was loved, I was welcomed, I was respected – I wasn’t judged because I was Somali, I wasn’t looked at differently because I was Somali. I felt like there were people who wanted to hear what I had to say. Who wouldn’t just jump to conclusions and assume just because I am Somali I didn’t know anything, or I couldn’t speak English…"
SPOTS as a place of growth
In addition to being a place of belonging and home, Hanan spoke about how SPOTS helped her find out the sort of person she was. In addition to helping her become a better speaker and reach past her comfort zone, Hanan explains that SPOTS was an opportunity for deep growth:
"SPOTS was a perfect place for me to grow, mentally and emotionally and see myself for who I really am… not see myself for what people think about my culture or what people think about my religion. That’s what home is, a place were you are respected. And that’s what SPOTS is for me.”