CEDAR RAPIDS — Kennedy High School student Rahma Elsheikh — a student leader in getting the Cedar Rapids school board to pursue anti-racism efforts — was one of seven Iowa students to be selected for the Iowa Department of Education’s state equity committee.
The committee’s mission is to ensure equity in education. Its goals include preparing educators to teach in inclusive and diverse classrooms; ensuring continuing education for educators and leaders to achieve equitable outcomes; attract, recruit, retain and promote educators who represent the student population they serve; and develop partnerships with underserved students and families to drive policies, practices and resources that are equitable to close the educational gap.
“I have experienced firsthand the racism, negligence, and lack of representation and only having one Black teacher,” said Elsheikh, 17.
Elsheikh’s experience as a high school student in Cedar Rapids started at the beginning of President Donald Trump’s term in office.
Following the 2016 election, Elsheikh older sister, Afnan, who was a senior at Kennedy at the time, staged a school demonstration against discrimination.
The demonstration was met by boys who had lined up their pickup trucks and displayed American and Confederate flags outside the school.
Rahma and her twin sister Raafa Elsheikh were vital in getting the Cedar Rapids Community School District to launch Black student unions at each of its four high schools and a Superintendent’s Advisory Group to begin new anti-racism efforts last month.
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The sisters spoke at a school board meeting in July, presenting demands for how the district can better support Black students and students of color.
Their demands include renaming schools named after slave owners such as Presidents Andrew Jackson, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; requiring all teachers to take implicit bias training; and teaching Black history in U.S. and World History classes beyond slavery.
Rahma said as a part of the state equity committee, she hopes to contribute to improving the Iowa educational system and that the demand’s she and Raafa have already presented locally are applicable to the entire state.
Rahma and Raafa have been invited to be a part of Superintendent Noreen Bush’s advisory group. Rahma said it’s a “nice gesture” to invite students to work closely with the superintendent to pursue anti-racism work, but the entire school district and community needs to be included in the conversation.
“I feel like there’s a lot of credit that has been taken from me and Raafa and given to the district,” Rahma said. “The district’s (anti-racism initiatives) are almost verbatim what Raafa and I had demanded at this board meeting, and putting that in the district’s words makes it sound like the district thought of this first.”
The pair also spoke at a Black Lives Matter protest in June at Bever Park organized by the Advocates for Social Justice. Rahma has since been invited to the advocates weekly meetings via Zoom, which she said was “an honor.”
Rahma applied for the state equity committee at the recommendation of Jefferson High School teacher Dr. Sarah Outterson-Murphy, who heard her presentation to the school board earlier this year.
“I was deeply impressed by the leadership, insight and strategic thinking evident in (her) words,” Outterson-Murphy said in an email.
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“Rahma has the strategic vision and drive to address real racial inequities in a collaborative way.”
As a member of the committee, Rahma will attend five meetings virtually or in-person during the 2020-2021 school year.
Other students on the equity committee are from Des Moines Public Schools, Marshalltown Community School District, Pekin School District, Gilbert Community School, Dubuque Community School District and Waterloo Community School District.
Other members of the committee are State Board of Education members, legislators, teachers and consultants from the Iowa Department of Education.
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