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We Got Next: Siriana Abboud

Posted on 23 June 2017

This June YXU has launched our "we Got Next" campaign to highlight more than 20 young leaders from across the country who are applying their passinos to make a difference in their communities. Follow along with YXU on Facebook, @yxulife on Twitter and Instagram and grab your We Got Next tee benefiting the Lebron James Family Foundation.


“You can’t teach those whom you don’t know. You can’t expect greatness from those whom you don’t love.”

- Dr. Mariana Souto-Manning, my MultiCultural Approaches to Teaching Young Children professor.

Call me the queen of icebreakers. My lame superpower would be breaking the ice (metaphorically, of course). For three years at Carnegie Mellon, I ran our Exchange Program, introducing forty students to forty exchange students each semester. Out of this program emerged some of the strongest and most meaningful relationships. How did we do it?

The perfect icebreaker is a powerful tool. It can frame your entire connection to another person by moving past the small talk and igniting the heart of the matter...or that person. Here, I’ll show you with one of my personal favorites.

  • What topic always excites you when you talk about it with others?

In December, I’m graduating from Columbia University with my Masters in Early Childhood General and Special Education, with a Bilingual extension. Here’s the caveat: I have just four, consecutive semesters to overload and succeed. As a QUIERE scholar, I need to graduate in 2017, even as I began my studies in Fall 2016. In my time at Columbia, I will have worked with over one hundred students in six classrooms across New York City. My students range from infants of teenage parents in one of Harlem strongest public early childcare center to preschoolers at a private school in SoHo whose parents can pay over $50,000 a year for their education.

After graduation, I will be working with children of America’s highest need populations. My students will be children of color, from immigrant families, of non-English backgrounds, of low-income communities, and with special needs. Each child will claim all of these identities.

Why am I doing this?

Ask me about equitable access to quality education. I’ll speak for days. Bring up fair representation in the curriculum, and I dare you to get in a word. America’s children of non-White, non-middle class backgrounds have never had the right to a quality and equitable education. De jure? Maybe. De facto? it’s questionable.

Teachers are warned against “making it political”, especially in early education. Leave politics out of the classroom.

Yet from a multicultural perspective, every aspect of our lives is political. Our world has been politicized by issues of race, gender, ability, sexuality, religion, nationality, and identity. They might appear in unconscious biases from interacting with a stranger on the street. It might be knowing whose voice is most heard in a crowd. Since the first colonizer landed on this continent, access to economic opportunity, security, and education has been a right for the select few, while being systematically denied to those of marginalized identities. For indigenous peoples, to exist and persist is a political act in itself.

The early education classroom does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, it is most children’s first exposure to the expectations and roles society assigns them. School choice is a guaranteed right for some, while housing discrimination and hidden bank policies prevent people of a certain race or nationality to access a quality school. The school-to-prison pipeline and systematic profiling of people of color has filled our prisons with black and brown bodies. One of the most targeted populations is Black mothers. Meanwhile, their children are placed in a broken foster care system and parents in certain states become disenfranchised citizens whose voices regarding their children’s education are silenced.

Education has always been political.

What’s my job? First, recognize my privileges and powers, because we all have more than we think. Even as a first-generation American, first-generation college student, and woman of color, I have my privileges. Second, break down structures of oppression that saturate from society into my classroom. Third, build up supports to enable access for all families and children to a quality education. Fourth, celebrate my students and their families for the immense knowledges, skills, and strengths they bring to our classroom.

We are educating children for a world that does not yet exist. If I can’t envision that world, my work is rendered impossible. Call me naive, call me an idealist. Those labels don’t intimidate me or those marching by my side.

My students and their families, my fellow educators, we are neither naive nor idealists. We are visionaries. We are humanists bursting with the faith that humanity has and will continue to accomplish extraordinary feats that places the sanctity of every human life and mind at the forefront of our achievements.

In my classroom, I won’t be a leader. Rather, I’ll be one of many. My students will each claim ownership of the curriculum, as they shape our learning experience. Only then can they, as leaders, claim ownership over their world and communities. Every child and relative, every neighbor and community member--we are all leaders. There is more expertise, talent, and potential distributed in an entire classroom than in any one person. My work is to bring the world into my classroom and empower my students to change the world.

This is my path of transforming that exciting conversation topic into a life-long commitment.

How’s that for killing the small talk?

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