There’s a new Primrose School opening in St. Louis Park this winter, and the story of how the early-education center, with other locations throughout the Twin Cities, came to be in our city is one that spans continents and centers on one woman’s desire to spread education and care.
Saira Sidi is the youngest of six siblings and grew up in Eldoret, Kenya. She stayed there through high school, in the colonial British school system, then emigrated to Canada in 1985 to continue her education. “I went through college in Montreal and I lived in Canada for 17 years,” she says. Sidi was studying chemistry and was one of 72 students across Canada selected by the government to pursue studies in science, which included a scholarship. Then, in 1989, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. “They found out she was actually at the third stage,” she says, so Sidi flew back to Kenya to be with her. While she was sitting with her mother, her mother said, “I wish one of my daughters was a nurse.” That stuck with her. “I was young at that time; it was a very painful journey to watch my mother, who had never been sick in her life, dying of cancer.”
After her mother’s death, Sidi went back to Canada, switched majors, and started nursing school. “So I was pursuing nursing, and at the same time biochemistry,” she says. “I’ve never practiced that profession, [but] I’ve been practicing nursing since I graduated in 1993.”
When she and her husband, Sulaiman Hemani, moved to Minnesota for his job, she continued in the nursing profession, working for Regions and HealthEast, and until last year, for the state of Minnesota, investigating maltreatment and abuse cases. It was shortly before that, in 2012, that she and Hemani got the idea to open a Primrose School.
“Some friends of ours acquired a Primrose [school], and our goddaughters actually attended it,” she says. The schooling system is very similar to what both she and her husband experienced as children—Hemani through the Montessori system and Sidi through her British-style education—so it immediately intrigued them. “Once we saw the Primrose model and what it believes in, like developing good children, providing good skill sets, character,” she says the couple started looking into acquiring their own school, and in 2014, jumped on board.
After that, it was a jumble of finding the land and getting a city permit; in April 2016 construction began for a January opening. The teachers were trained in the Primrose curriculum. “Then, obviously, being a nurse, I want to make sure all my teachers are CPR and first-aid trained,” she says. “I want to make sure I have the right staff before opening my doors.”
The school is open to young students, with infant, toddler, early preschool, preschool, prekindergarten and kindergarten (offered all day), followed by “Explorer” classes before and after school for kids from 6 to 12 years. The point of the program is “to provide opportunities for learning right from the age when a child is able to learn,” Sidi says.
When she decided to switch to nursing, Sidi promised herself, “If I can make a change in one person’s life every day, that’s good enough for me.” From health care to educating children, she’s keeping her promise. But it’s more than providing an early-education system here in St. Louis Park. “Coming from a third-world country, one day I would like to take this model back there,” Sidi says. “Education [in Kenya] is improved, but it’s not what we have here.”