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Minneapolis Student Didn't Let Language Barrier Deter Her

  • When Nasteho Abdi moved to the United States from Ethiopia with her family when she was in the fifth grade, the school year was nearly over and the only English she knew was, "What's your name?" She began sixth grade feeling confused and overwhelmed but was determined to make school a priority and to succeed.

    And succeed is what she did, eventually being selected as one of the highest honors graduates in the 2021 senior class of Thomas Edison High School in Minneapolis.

    Her journey as a high-achieving student was not easy. Abdi, who identifies as an African-American Muslim Hijabi, spent much of her time in the sixth grade in the computer lab, watching nursery rhymes to help her learn English and improve her language skills. She always wanted to ask more questions when she was confused about a topic, but her limited English skills made her self-conscious and shy. So, she began using her facial expressions to communicate her level of understanding. Her teachers quickly caught on and would look to her during class to see if she needed further explanation and to gauge her comfort level with new lessons.  

    Abdi also found unceasing support from her parents at home. Although they were unable to receive a formal education themselves, her mother, who does not speak fluent English, always advocated for Abdi and stayed involved in her education. 

    By seventh grade, Abdi was among the highest honor students of her class; and by ninth grade, she was able to exit her English-Language Learner status. Her newfound proficiency in English gave her abounding confidence and empathy, and she resolved to always be an advocate for those students who were struggling to learn English. 

    Abdi was a member of the National Honor Society, the rigorous International Baccalaureate Programme, the Coding Club, and the Somali Culture Club. She also worked as a cashier at a grocery store.

    Abdi received a Wallin Foundation scholarship for up to $4,000 per year for four years, as well as the Robert and Gerry Nehotte Thomas A. Edison Scholarship. In the fall, she will attend Hamline University in Minnesota, where she hopes to study management.