Bridging Students, Schools, and Communities with Abeer Shinnawi

Photo Caption: Abeer, in the middle with red pants, with educators from the Baltimore County Public Schools

Re-Imagining Migration is thrilled to welcome Abeer Shinnawi to our team where she will take on the role of Program Lead. Abeer is a veteran educator with deep experience working with social studies educators, immigrant students, and on issues of racial equity. Our Executive Director, Adam Strom, recently spoke with her about her identity as an educator, Re-Imagining Migration’s role in these challenging times, and what keeps her going when the world starts to feel overwhelming.

Adam Strom: Abeer, welcome to the team. We are so excited to learn from and with you. The longer I have been in education, the more I have come to believe that great educators bring their whole selves to their work. That isn’t to say that our identities shape what we teach, but I do think they shape why we teach. So, Mrs. Shinnawi, what brought you to the classroom, and now to Re-Imagining Migration.

Abeer S.: I was planning on becoming a lawyer until a short internship my senior year of high school changed all of that!  As a student, I had a closer relationship with the principal of our school and she encouraged me to go into education.  She knew I enjoyed history and thought I would be a good role model for children, so I was convinced.  I also wanted to “give back” and what better way?

After meeting you via my friend Sarah Said, I was intrigued by the organization and everything Re-Imagine represents.  After “stalking” the organization on social media and the opportunity was available, I was excited for the chance to work with you and the entire organization.  As a child of immigrants, I want to provide a space, open opportunities and provide support to students of immigrant origins or children of immigrant parents who are experiencing similar struggles I faced as a child. 

Adam S. I love how you connect your personal and professional lives. It is something I think about a lot as well. Abeer, K-12 educators and administrators are experiencing incredible disruption due to COVID-19. At the same time, polarization and demographic change are leading many educators to rethink how they teach, as well as who they teach. In the midst of these changes, what do you see as Re-Imagining Migration’s role?

Abeer S.: Re-Imagine’s role is to support, provide guidance, and offer a foundation on how to approach teaching immigrant/migrant children along with addressing their needs. I also see Re-Imagining Migration as the bridge between the schools and communities to create a better understanding and help develop empathy for those who do not know how to acknowledge the changes to their own communities. 

Adam S. Well said. The last few months have led to a reckoning with our long history of racial inequity. There has also been a strong backlash from people who feel that teaching about difficult histories is unpatriotic or slander on our collective past. How might Re-Imagining Migration’s approach create space for these conversations in the classroom?

Abeer S.: Re-Imagining’s focus is all about honoring the stories and contributions of migrants/immigrants (forced or by free will) therefore one cannot study the history of this country without learning about those who helped build this nation.  Re-Imagine’s Learning Arc provides a gateway on how to approach this polarizing topic with the resources to help educators build empathy, understanding, and appreciation for the history of all those who came before us and those who are yet to come. 

Adam S. For many educators, the last few months have felt exhausting and overwhelming. How do you keep yourself going when it all starts to feel like too much?

Abeer S.: Surrounding myself with people who share similar struggles, joys and aspirations always keeps me grounded.  The same people are my thought partners but also my “crew” to help me realize that what I am experiencing is normal but a cloud in passing.  Focusing on the real work that needs to be done and the goals I have in mind keeps me going as well.  I always love a challenge but find it even more rewarding when I meet that challenge after all of the trials and tribulations that tried to stop me from doing what is right for all children. 

Adam S. Abeer, thanks for taking the time for this conversation. We can’t wait for educators around the country, and the world, to get to know you like we have the last few months. 

Abeer S: I am excited too! Thank you!!