BURNSVILLE, Minn. – At Gideon Pond Elementary, the morning greeting is delivered by the principal.
“Make a positive choice,” Chris Bellmont counsels his students over the school public address system.
The principal may deliver the message, but a 23-year-old teachers’ aide makes it stick.
“He is the glue,” agrees Bellmont.
On any given morning, Hudayfi Barsug can be found darting from classroom to classroom. He’ll eventually visit them all – dancing with kindergartners, getting a smile from a second-grader he helps with a math problem, and addressing the latest educational crisis: a student who dressed himself a little too quickly.
“He forgot his socks, so he’s going to get more socks from the nurse today,” says Barsug while spiriting the happy student down the school hallway in search of proper footwear.
Though Barsug is 23, he could easily pass for 18. He is also Somali, which places him in a unique position to connect with an increasing number of students at Gideon Pond.
“My role is being here for the kids,” he says.
More than 40 percent of Gideon Pond’s students are now Somali – while zero percent of the teachers are.
“I’m yet to interview a candidate,” says Principal Bellmont, who has been able to hire four Somali support staff members, but no teachers.
It’s not for lack of desire. “I would love to,” Bellmont says, but none can be found.
Bellmont has been trying since arriving two years ago from his job as an assistant principal at Burnsville High School, where he took a liking to the teenage version of Barsug – a wide-smiling teachers’ favorite who helped found the school’s Muslim student association.
“I remember being really impressed with Hudayfi’s leadership even at 16, 17 and 18 years old,” Bellmont says.