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High school students teach younger students a lesson in culture and acceptance

Growing up, Shahd Abouhekel, a senior at Stillwater Area High School, rarely saw herself and her culture represented in her school. She didn’t see characters in books wearing hijabs or hear about Muslim history in any of her classes. So when she had the opportunity to talk about hijab with elementary students across the district, she jumped at the chance.

“I did not have an experience like this during elementary school,” Abouhekel said. “I told myself it would have been an amazing opportunity if a group of students shared their experiences about the hijab when I was a kid. Or even if we had books representing different cultures. If I did have this experience, it would’ve opened up conversation and [my classmates] would’ve learned about the hijab and its true meaning at a younger age.”

Abouhekel and fellow high school student Thuha Al-Dokhl were invited by elementary media specialists to talk with students as part of a lesson using the book Under My Hijab by Hena Khan. The pair created a video that was shown to all elementary students in the district to explain what hijab is and why someone may wear it. In the video, they showed the younger students the different ways to wear the hijab, and talked about their experiences wearing it - both the positive and negative.

Media specialists showed the video during their classes, and also held two Zoom meetings where the younger students could meet Abouhekel and Al-Dokhl live and ask their own questions about the hijab and Muslim culture. Students asked things like, “Do you sleep with it?” “How many hijabs do you have?” and “What is your favorite color?” The two high school students documented all of the questions they received from the elementary students and they filled more than 28 pages.

“Kids are so open-minded and curious that if we don’t give them that space to learn about a subject, then they might never reach out and ask,” Abouhekel said. “The one takeaway I want students to understand is that although we are all different, we should still embrace who we are and accept each other. We should treat others with courtesy and not disparage one another. Celebrating our differences is what connects us!”

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