• With support from a donor through the San Francisco Foundation, APISA has launched targeted literacy initiatives to lift up Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander literacy rates.  Specialists began work in the Spring of 2019 and are supporting distance learning in the 2020-21 school year.


    The Fananga and Ta'alam Literacy Projects shared their work in June 2020 at the Rise Up for Equity Conference, highlighting best practices and lessons learned from Year 1 of their pilot projects:



    Middle Eastern Literacy & Cultural Arts Project


    AAYSP Logo

    Ta’alam Literacy Program

    Partner: American Association of Yemeni Students & Professionals


    Coordinator Contact: Sabria Hassan <programs@aaysp.org>


    Sabria Hassan and Husam Falah from AAYSP have been piloting programs for Middle Eastern and SWANA students at Allendale Elementary, Hoover Elementary, and Fruitvale Elementary.  From supporting Family Literacy Nights to providing intervention support for targeted students, AAYSP has filled a big gap in bridging these families to schools, providing much-needed translation, interpretation and role models.




    Husam Falah serves as the AAYSP Youth Engagement Committee Chair, and also supports Middle Eastern and Muslim student clubs at OUSD schools.  Husam has been a longtime advocate and activist fighting for the rights of marginalized Yemeni Americans. With mentorship programs he led in Oakland and SF, he empowers students to fulfill their potential - helping them increase academic performance, and ensure they have the know-how to graduate from high school and apply to college.




    As AAYSP’s Program Coordinator, Sabria Hassan is currently the Vice President of Kaiser Elementary School’s Membership and Volunteer organization and dedicates her free time in volunteering at her local masjid - a known Yemeni community center Masjid Al Salam. Sabria is determined to uplift and give back to a community she actively grew up in and eventually returned to serve.  Sabria’s main focus is on the cultural makeup of the Yemeni/American community, in relation to gender dynamics, political identity, and cases of marginalization within the public educational system. 


    Pacific Islander Literacy & Cultural Arts Project


    IKUNA Logo

    Fananga Literacy Program

    Partner: IKUNA Education


    Coordinator Contact: John Lauti <jlauti@theikunagroup.org>


    IKUNA is led by three Skyline graduates who are from the first Tongan family in Oakland: John, Taimani and Feke Lauti.  They are partnering with REACH, Madison Park, Horace Mann, Laurel and Parker Elementary Schools to conduct family outreach and engagement to support student literacy, and are bringing cultural education to the schools and Pacific Islander communities in Oakland.  Their Fananga Cultural Events Series highlights local Pacific Islander artists and elevates the power of culture for empowerment, success, and achievement.




    John Lauti brings best practices from Pacific Islander culturally responsive programs in Salt Lake City, Utah, home of one of the largest Pacific Islander communities in the U.S., to bring much-needed resources to our Pacific Islander students and families back home in Oakland.  Taimani Lauti works at Lighthouse Charter School, and is an OUSD parent who is active with the local Mormon communities. Feke Lauti works at Laney College to support foster youth and focuses on youth leadership development. With deep roots throughout the Tongan and Pacific Islander community, their work is generating excitement across Oakland and in surrounding cities such as San Leandro and Hayward asking for services for their students.



    Middle Eastern & Pacific Islander Literacy Pilot Projects


    The Oakland Unified School District’s Office of Equity Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement Program is conducting a pilot project to target the achievement of Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander students who have some of the lowest rates of literacy in the school district, aligning with OUSD’s strategic focus on literacy to improve academic and life outcomes.


    • In the fall of 2018-19, Arab and Pashto speaking students and Pacific Islanders were the lowest performing student groups in OUSD on the Scholastic Reading Inventory with 82% and 76% of the populations, respectively, reading one or multiple years below grade level.


    APISA has contracted with community partners who can work with these populations to bring culturally-relevant stories and asset-based practices using a dual-outcome approach model that brings secondary school students to work with elementary schools to read books and work on literacy projects together.  


    Asmaa Writing


    Furthermore, these two communities have some of the lowest rates of enrollment in preschool, likely leading to lower rates of literacy, so efforts to inform Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander families of low-cost Early Childhood Education programs for increased enrollment are needed.  


    In these cultural traditions, performing arts and oral literacies are strong vehicles for understanding story, comprehending narrative, self-expression, and finding agency within a text.  We aim to work with up to 20 teachers, school site staff and classrooms to pilot culturally relevant strategies, empowering teachers to develop curriculum, collaborating with community organizations to partner and mentor, and lifting up student leadership to support other students and become educators themselves.


    PI College Night  


    These populations also have low representation amongst the teacher and staff population in OUSD, with a lack of role models and mentors who understand unique cultural challenges to connect with and motivate struggling students.  Inspiring secondary students to consider education careers will help meet teacher shortage and representation challenges, and build meaningful economic pathways for low-income families. Building stronger mentorships between younger and older students will provide the motivating relationships and role modeling needed to accelerate positive connection to school and academic achievement.  


    Combining these multiple strategies, lifting up these powerful cultural groups who are often invisible and overlooked, increasing their leadership and representation in OUSD, and providing increased support and infrastructure will also bring greater global awareness and education to the broader student and staff population in our schools.  As many of our Middle Eastern students are targeted for bullying and Pacific Islander students experience high rates of violence in school, increased sensitivity, knowledge, and empowerment will create more inclusive, diverse and affirming learning environments for our scholars to feel safe and more connected to their own learning.