When One School Closes . . .

In the final few days before my sophomore year, I suddenly received the news that my school, Minneapolis College Prep, had closed.

I was lost. I didn’t know where to go from there. My school had struggled with enrollment problems over the few years it was operating, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. But it was still jarring.

Magda Abdi
Magda Abdi will be among the first graduating class at Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis. (Magda Abdi)

While researching, I found Hiawatha Collegiate High School (HCHS), a charter school. I was nervous to start my second year in a completely new school. I had doubts, but I decided to try it, especially since I needed to start school as soon as possible.

For the first few weeks, I experienced the typical awkwardness with student transfers. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to fit in. According to data from Hiawatha Academies, the school was 87.5 percent Latino the year I started. I wondered if I would be able to find my place, especially being the only Somali in my grade.

It was difficult at first, but I began to find in time that HCHS was a good fit for me. Being a charter school, they had a lot of resources and a close-knit environment in which I could maintain a strong relationship with my teachers and students. I gained many new experiences, such as being invited to be in promotional photo shoots and interviewed for school brochures.

As my junior year came to a close, I found myself a part of the student body. I had never felt as close and involved in the happenings of a school before. I was proud to represent HCHS and see that I had an impact on people deciding to enroll. However, I noticed that my school had a lack of diversity.

When HCHS relocated for the 2018-19 school year, it wasn’t a surprise to see an increase in the student population. According to the Hiawatha Academies website, at full enrollment the school will have 788 students by the 2025-26 school year. With the student population increase, I noticed positive demographic changes.

According to data obtained through Hiawatha Academies, there has been a 0.7 percent increase in African-American students, as well as a 2.6 percent increase in students of other ethnicity throughout the entire Hiawatha Academies network of college prep schools.

I notice these changing demographics are most reflected in the lower grades at HCHS.

“A diverse community doesn’t always just happenwe have to be intentional about building and nurturing it,” says Vanessa Palmer, senior director of data and analytics at Hiawatha Academies.

But for our senior class, in which our African-American population is only 11 students, there is a different challenge.

“It’s very isolating,” says Amira Irwin, senior at HCHS. She appreciates the support that students get at school, but she has witnessed students being left out.

“It isn’t really that diverse,” notes Heidi Sanchez, senior at HCHS. “In a class where there are 25 students, about 20 of them are Latinos, and the rest are the minority within the majority.”

Recently, HCHS held our first pep rally. In the crowd, I could see the new students of different backgrounds and experiences. This makes me feel optimistic that the school will continue to diversify.

I first made the decision to attend Hiawatha out of necessity. But I’ve learned a lot from attending my school. It’s made me more aware of the struggles and goals that we all face as human beings, and I think it’s made me a much more empathetic person. Because of this, I don’t really regret my high school experience. Every downside has shaped the viewpoint of the world that I have.

As I enter college, what excites me is that I will have more opportunities to learn from people of diverse backgrounds. I look forward to taking more risks, meeting different people, and hearing their insights and views on life.