Quick to react with words and fists, Farhiya Abdullahi became a regular in school administration offices. She spent many days suspended, and was eventually expelled.
“The way I reacted was terrible. I had so much anger built up in me… My mouth was terrible,” she said. “My attitude was terrible. I was suspended literally every month.”
Farhiya sat at the desk of Crossroads Alternative High School Assistant Principal Ian Gibson, the administrator who expelled her two years ago and welcomed her back last fall.
Turns out, a lot can happen in a year: Gibson recently recommended Farhiya for a School News Network article about how far a student can go after deciding to change.
Farhiya now has 16.5 of 19 credits required to graduate and could earn her diploma as early as December, before her peers. Compare that to a year ago when she had earned just four total credits.
Farhiya immigrated to Kentwood as a toddler with her mother, Nunay Ali, and six siblings, as refugees from Kenya. Farhiya does not remember Kenya. She and her family speak Maay Maay, a Somali dialect.
“My mom ended up coming to America to make not only her life better, but her kids’ lives too. She wanted us to get our education. In Kenya, there aren’t that many opportunities. This is the place she felt her kids needed to grow up.”
Farhiya’s father, who emigrated from Africa separately from the rest of the family, moved away completely when Farhiya was young. “My mom was struggling; she had seven kids and was new to the country… She was a single mom and she had to raise all of us by herself.”
Farhiya had a few negative early experiences in school; her resentment grew and she began getting in trouble. She got in many fights at Crestwood Middle School, and, at East Kentwood High School, her fists landed her in long-term suspension.
She enrolled at Lighthouse Academy briefly, then at Crossroads Alternative High School in 2016. “I stayed in school for a month and got expelled,” she recalled.
Leaving Behind Anger and Resentment
Being out of school gave Farhiya time to reflect. She knew her options were limited and she had passed few classes at school. She realized her self-created predicament was sad, but she also knew she could get herself out of it.
Farhiya re-enrolled at Lighthouse and passed a couple classes. Last October, a Lighthouse staff member asked Shirley Johnson, the district’s assistant superintendent of student Services, if she would meet with Farhiya to talk about reinstatement. Johnson agreed.
“In my mind I was like, ‘I don’t deserve it. I got long-term suspended and I got expelled, and she’s still willing to talk to me?’ ” Farhiya recalled.
At the reinstatement hearing, Johnson asked Farhiya why she wanted to go back to Crossroads.
Her answer: “I sat down this summer and thought about everything. I shouldn’t be putting my mom through this. I shouldn’t be putting myself through this. My mom brought me here for better opportunities and I’m just putting it to waste.
“On top of that, I’m trying to graduate. I want to be successful. I want to make a better living for myself and my family. I don’t want to sit here and struggle. I see a lot of people in my family struggling because they have no education. They are working, breaking every bone in their body, just to survive.”
Johnson said students including Farhiya need champions and an advocate for a second chance. “I saw her heart and her authentic self in the process,” she said. “Farhiya has really made significant gains since returning to school, and I couldn’t be more proud of her maturity and growth.”
Farhiya was all in.
Back at Crossroads, she ignored drama, avoided conflict and soon realized he could excel. “Teachers are motivating here. Teachers will help you,” she said.
She completed 12 classes in a matter of months, often working at home into the wee hours. She was soon Crossroads’ No. 1 student and last spring earned a science award.
“She’s a model student now. She’s got that grit we talk about here in Kentwood,” Gibson said. “She has this positive vibe about her… She is absolutely college-bound.
Added Principal Rick Hatfield, “She’s done a phenomenal job. Farhiya has had exemplary behavior, academically and emotionally, since she was reinstated.”
Farhiya recently received her citizenship from U.S. Dept of Homeland Security, with her mother by her side.
Farhiya plans to go to Grand Rapids Community College. She said she is interested in healthcare or social work.
Her mother, who once was more accustomed to her daughter being out of school than in, is now proud of Farhiya, and says their relationship has improved.
That matters a lot.
“If I could buy my mom the world, I honestly would. The only way I can do that is to further my education.”