Home Minnesota Educator Moorhead teacher Zak Amin wins Education Minnesota’s 2024 Human Rights Award

Moorhead teacher Zak Amin wins Education Minnesota’s 2024 Human Rights Award

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The Moorhead school district is home to a large Kurdish-speaking population—other than English, it is the most common language in the district and is spoken in the homes of 239 families. But Moorhead High School ESL (English as a second language) teacher Zak Amin noticed that there was a cultural divide between parents and children. “The parents were speaking Kurdish, but the children were speaking English. They understood each other, but there was a big gap,” Amin said.

To help bridge that gap, Amin created a Kurdish heritage and culture class that launched last fall. Amin, who has worked as a liaison to Kurdish families, says that one of his goals is to help the parents become more Americanized while helping the kids develop a sense of pride in their Kurdish heritage so that the parents and children can bond. In addition to teaching Kurdish in Moorhead schools during the day, he teaches English to many of his students’ parents at night.

The community response to the class has been overwhelmingly positive. Students say it’s helped them connect with their culture and develop their identity. “I think it’s pretty cool. It gives us an opportunity to represent ourselves and embrace who we are,” said one Moorhead student. “Some of us weren’t born in Kurdistan—some of us were born here. This class gives us the opportunity to learn our history, language and culture.”

Another student spoke about how the class has strengthened her relationship with her parents and her Kurdish language skills. “My parents are so impressed because I’m speaking to them in Kurdish, I’m telling them about history I’ve learned, about songs I’ve learned—and they’re so happy that I’m connecting with my culture.”

Amin says his goal is to make Kurdish a world language one day. “Even if I cannot do it,” he said, “I would do my best to help whoever takes that responsibility.”

For his work establishing this class to help create a safe and equitable learning environment for Moorhead students, Amin was honored with the Education Minnesota Human Rights Award at the 2024 Representative Convention.

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