Giving voice to diversity

Arianna Zeb is committed to supporting refugee and immigrant communities and giving students a way to express their diverse experiences. 

She is currently the teacher for the Newcomers fourth and fifth grade class at Lee McShan Elementary School, which is located in the diverse neighborhood of Vickery Meadow. Zeb’s journey to McShan is filled with a wide range of experiences, strongly influenced by her cultural heritage and driven by a strong passion to uplift her students.

“My passion for teaching refugees blossomed during my time in Austin, where I volunteered to teach Syrian, Afghan, and African refugees,” Zeb said. “I realized my passion was to teach refugees and began researching schools in Dallas with diverse populations. That is when I found McShan and the Vickery Meadow community.”

Zeb’s own background—half-Pakistani and half-American—allows her to build a special bond with her students. 

“Being half-Pakistani helps me relate to my students because my father also immigrated to America to work hard and achieve success,” she said. “Both of my parents have inspired me to live a life of service. They fully support my mission of educating refugee children.”

Zeb’s classroom is a multicultural environment, with 36 students from 14 countries who speak a total of 18 different languages. They come from many countries: Burma, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Syria, Philippines, Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi, Central Africa Republic, Tanzania, Somalia, Eritrea, and Uganda. Each student brings a unique story—some attended school in refugee camps, some attended school regularly, some have had interrupted or inconsistent formal education, and some never had the opportunity to attend school at all. 

“It is my job to differentiate my instruction to fit the needs of each child in my class so that everyone shows growth.” Zeb said. 

One of the ways in which she gives her students an opportunity to express their truth is the “Voices of Vickery,” an autobiography project for refugees and immigrant students at Lee McShan Elementary, now in its fourth year. Made possible thanks to the Junior League Grants for Innovative Teaching, the project celebrates students’ past, present and future through storytelling. 

“I started Voices of Vickery because I wanted to create a project that would showcase our rich diversity at McShan,” Zeb said. “Diversity is our strength, and I want my students to always be proud of their cultures and where they come from.”   

During the project, students research their families by creating family trees and interviewing their parents in their native language using voice recorders. These interviews represent their lives in their countries and reasons why their family came to the United States: safety, opportunity, and quality education. Students also capture present-day moments through instant snapshots used to decorate their trifold boards. 

“The future section is my favorite to read because I love learning about my students’ hopes and dreams,” Zeb said. 

During the project presentation to parents and to members of the community, parents share their appreciation and express the joy of seeing their children read their autobiography. 

Zeb’s commitment expands beyond the classroom. 

“I visit my students’ families at home and bring educational materials, books, and school supplies,” she said. “I meet grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors. I am always impressed by the value they place on education, their warmth, hospitality, and their respect for teachers.”

Each day, Zeb starts the class with a mantra: “I am smart. I am kind. I am important.” Through this, Zeb hopes to instill confidence and resilience in her students. 

“Their resilience, determination, and curiosity inspire me to work harder to become a better teacher,” Zeb said. “I am proud to work at a school that values diversity, and I am honored to teach the most amazing students! Being a newcomers teacher is my dream job, and I am grateful to be a teacher at McShan.”


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