More Somali students graduate, find success

LEWISTON — It's a quiet success story, says Lewiston High School Principal Gus LeBlanc.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Asha Mohamud, 17, hugs a class adviser after receiving her Lewiston High School diploma Friday, June 3, at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Shobow Saban marches during his graduation from Lewiston High School on Friday, June 3.

English language learner (ELL) students in Lewiston (most are Somali):

2000-01: 63

2002-03: 224

2004-05: 378

2005-06: 484

September 2006:  524

September 2007: 707

September 2008: 818

September 2009: 925, plus 53 students who moved out of ELL status, progressing to "monitor" status

February 2010: 964, plus 65 students in monitor status

February 2011: 994, plus 56 in monitor status

Source: Lewiston School Department

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Family and friends cheer on graduates at Lewiston High School's commencement ceremonies Friday, June 3, at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

Ten years after Somalis began moving to Lewiston, their children are doing well in school, he said.

At the graduation ceremony June 3 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, groups of Somalis enthusiastically cheered their graduates.

Each graduate is given 10 tickets to the graduation. Some Somali graduates asked for 30 because their friends and family all wanted to be there.

More are graduating from high school. More are at Central Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College.

The high school this year had 40 English language learners in their fourth year. Most ELL students are Somali. Of those 40, 21 graduated June 3, and three will graduate Aug. 11, LeBlanc said.

Another 14 will return this fall for a fifth year, with 72 percent on track to graduate in 2012.

Two aged out, which means they're referred to Lewiston Adult Education to complete their high school education. Maine law says students cannot attend high school after age 20.

“There has been a steady increase in the academic success of students, reductions in their failure rates and increases in their graduation rates,” LeBlanc said.

Parents factor in success

One reason, he said, is the parents.

"Family support, encouragement and expectations have a lot to do with student success,” he said. “A tribute to the Somali community is appropriate. They value education.”

LeBlanc said he's seen significant gains for ELL students in math. “Language comprehension still lags behind, but this is their second language,” he said.

Somali students are athletes, they participate in clubs and organizations, and are class officers.

That is a lot, LeBlanc said, “when you think what it must be like to come to a new country where society is different, the language is different. You have to learn a new language and at the same time learn academic content.”

Some still struggle

Not all are successful.

Some, especially those who show up for high school without ever having been in school or were in school only briefly, are struggling.

ELL students are often frustrated that they don't progress faster out of ELL courses, which don't always count as credit toward the diploma.

Learning English takes time, LeBlanc said. And to succeed the rigors of high school classes, they must speak English, read and comprehend an expansive vocabulary.

Numbers show that more ELL graduates “make the initial leap” to college, but a higher percentage don't make it compared to the regular population, LeBlanc said. He's said he's not sure why.

College participation grows

At Central Maine Community College, this year's graduating class was the most diverse in the school's history, with 8.5 percent coming from minority groups.

The college could not provide numbers for Somali grads because it does not record students' nationalities.

“We know the Somali population has been increasing just by looking at students in our classes,” said Roger Philippon, dean of Planning and Public Affairs. “We estimate the Somali population has doubled in the last five years. We expect the increase to continue.”

Jan Phillips, associate dean at the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College, said the number of Somali students is small but growing. She could not provide numbers because the college does not track a students' ethnic backgrounds.

The college is seeing two kinds of Somali students, Phillips said. Some are older and have had some higher education in Africa, and others are adults who want an education.

Phillips said one Somali woman got her high school equivalency diploma at Lewiston Adult Education, then her associate degree from Central Maine Community College and a bachelor's degree at L-A College.

“Now she's doing graduate studies in New York City,” Phillips said.

The college is also seeing younger Somali students.

“If you walk the halls, we're really starting to see the children of immigrants going through school just like any other American,” she said.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.




It's news.

It's news. Quit belly-aching.

Steve  Dosh's picture

More Somali students graduate, find success

Sunday 4:40 pm ? HST •  . .. C est si bon , ganz gut , bein , bien , bom , good work , O'jala , Ensh'allah , God Willing , Shalom , Peace , Salem , Yaweh Willing , too :)
Whoops , go† a little carried away , graduates . Congratulations !
May all your many dreams , hopes and wishes come true , /s, Steve Dosh and Ohana , Hawai'i Na'a'li'i Sam'o'an ( a family of Kings and Queens )

Kim Berry's picture

ok this is the third story.........

..... featuring Somalie graduates. How far back to I need to look for the other student's success stories? I will look again. Must have missed them?

Ron Hubbard's picture

They are not the only grads!!!!!

Where is the story about the other kids who worked hard(And parents paid taxes)that are graduating????What is Lewiston just a Somali city now???

Tony Morin's picture

Get a life Ron.

Get a life Ron. It's an interesting story. Congrats to all who graduated or will graduate this year.

Allisa Milliard's picture

check the newspapers for the

check the newspapers for the past few weeks. they have all been recognized.

Terry Donald's picture


Seeing these students achieve success is a true joy! I only hope they keep their talents in Maine and help our state become a more tolerant diverse area. Congratulations, you have overcome much in your lives, best of luck as you continue your education!


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...