Sitting alone in a nearly completed school building, Halma Abubakar speaks with passion about the educational programs she’s helping to build through Why Not You Academy, formerly Cascade Midway Academy, a Washington charter public school.
Halma grew up in West Seattle in a tight-knit community where, as she fondly describes, “everyone knows everyone.” Following high school, Halma set off on a new adventure, studying communications and broadcasting at Barry University in Miami before going abroad to work at a school in Dubai.
Here, Halma found herself dissatisfied with the work because the school did not share her values or sense of service to students. Still, it was there that Halma formed a strong understanding of the kind of educational spaces in which she did want to work. She quickly returned to Seattle where she discovered a new charter public school being formed – Summit Atlas.
Joining the WA Charters Family
After reading the mission and vision for Summit Atlas, Halma told herself, “this is the place I can see myself.”
A stone’s throw away from her former high school, Summit Atlas was opening its doors in the same neighborhood Halma spent her childhood. Even before the building was complete, Halma was out helping with their first registration day at the park. She was deeply invested in the school and student’s success because this was her community. Working with Summit Atlas helped Halma grow professionally and personally. It shaped her passion for charter programs.
Because West Seattle has small and highly connected communities, she was able to hear feedback and implement changes quickly. This is what Halma loves about charter schools. They are built to serve what the community wants, and they are flexible enough to address what the community needs – especially the scholar community. Changes can be implemented quickly to ensure young people don’t fall through the cracks.
“I’m here to listen to the kids, and to listen to the community,” said Halma. “And that’s the cool thing about charter schools – you are able to listen to families and make choices that best serve the kids in the community.”
Founding Why Not You Academy
Helping build a school from the ground up was an exciting experience for Halma. “When you found a charter school, you can create all the programs you want to see in a learning environment,” said Halma.
That’s why she enthusiastically joined the team at Why Not You Academy. “I learned so much from Summit Atlas and I wanted to implement what I learned,” said Halma. “When WNYA came along, I loved the internship concept because learning needs to be relevant for kids.”
Why Not You Academy serves a largely East African community, for whom Halma’s presence is familiar and welcoming. Halma has been canvassing the neighborhoods to learn about the families, connect with the community, and act as a sounding board for their needs within the school setting.
This personal touch has helped Why Not You Academy families as COVID-19 continues to keep schools closed. Even while Why Not You Academy leaders made the incredibly hard decision to postpone opening their doors amid the pandemic, Halma has designed new ways to support families and kids most in need of additional resources.
While making calls to families, Halma heard that scholars were struggling with access to consistent technology and quiet spaces in which to concentrate. She heard families’ challenges and worked to find a solution through small learning hubs. Halma worked to identify families with the most need to ensure their scholars had the space and support they needed to work through this school year. She went so far as to help families with language or technological barriers fill out their applications to participate in the hubs.
When she works with scholars, Halma focuses on offering the tools they need to actively engage in their learning. This includes the ability to look up information, develop daily goals and work plans to achieve those goals, and good study habits to manage workloads. In short, life skills. Halma’s goal is to provide scholars with what they need to succeed independently.
“If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s to be the person you needed when you were young,” said Halma.
Keenly aware that representation matters, Halma is committed to connecting with scholars through a culturally specific lens. She has successfully built positive and trusting relationships with scholars and their families, both at Summit Atlas and Why Not You Academy. She also continues to canvass neighborhoods to build new connections with the community.
“This gives me more of an insight into the communities we want to serve,” said Halma. “And I can keep that lens in mind when we expand what we offer.”
One of the challenges that Halma has identified within the community is culturally relevant outlets for socioemotional health. In her own journey to find counselors who share her background as a Muslim and Person of Color, she came up short. “When I say something in therapy that has gone over someone’s head, I see that we need to have a cultural conversation,” said Halma. “It’s helpful and powerful to feel validated.”
To help WA Charter ensure that more families have access to schools like Why Not You Academy and leaders like Halma, visit the WA Charters donation page.