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Fridley Public Schools

Fridley Middle School (FMS) students had the opportunity to receive Eid mehndi, intricate henna designs drawn on the hands of Muslim women, at the school to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is a traditional holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims.

This year, from April 1 to May 1, Muslim students observed the religious and cultural tradition, which includes fasting from food and water from dawn until dusk. “In the past during this month, I would often hear from Muslim students that there is a lack of space and understanding among the school community,” said Aloda Sims, FMS equity and inclusion specialist. “As our district continues on our equity and inclusion journey, it was apparent that we needed to provide a positive, safe and non-isolating environment so we can allow all students to thrive.”

Each year during Ramadan, Fridley students have the option of spending the lunch hour in the media center or multipurpose room. Sims partnered with 8th grade students Amera Husein and Sajah Chehber to create opportunities to increase understanding and awareness of Ramadan traditions. By implementing student voice, Sims organized several traditional opportunities for Muslim students to engage in –- including calligraphy and henna.

“It’s been exciting to take the lead and help organize opportunities for Muslim representation, and I feel like it’s helped spread empathy and understanding across our entire school,” said Chehber. “We haven’t gotten the question ‘not even water..?’ like we have in the past. This year, it’s been more curious and genuine questions from classmates.”

“It’s made such a difference in terms of opening up the conversations and starting this dialogue,” said Husein. “Our classmates and teachers are learning something new, so it’s been exciting to have open conversations and share more about the deeper meaning of our traditions.”

With the help of students, Sims created a Ramadan website for students to engage in during homeroom, which featured information about the holy month, as well student voice videos, ways to support students, and educational trivia games.

As the end of the month neared, Husein and Chehber suggested providing an opportunity for students to receive henna during their lunch hour. A local artist from Sunnah Henna visited the school on April 28, providing henna to over 50 FMS students. The temporary henna is applied in elaborate floral and geometric designs, dyeing the skin with a paste that is created from the leaves of a henna plant. Traditionally, Muslim women receive henna for various celebrations, including weddings and during Eid.

From left to right, equity and inclusion specialist Aloda Sims with FMS 8th grade students Sajah Chehber and Amera Husein

“Bringing the henna tradition within our school walls was the extra spark that we needed this year,” said Sims. “We wanted to provide that intentional collaboration with our students, which allows us to bridge the gap to inform and educate about cultural connections.” Sims added that implementing equity and inclusion pieces into the school day is highly important for all students. “It helps our youth to build identity, their self-esteem and confidence,” said Sims.

“At Fridley, we value and see every single one of our students. This brings so much impact socially to the inclusive learning environment, which leads to academic success. For our students and families to know that their school is partnering with them to embrace who they are, that’s what equity and inclusion is all about.”