Hanaa and her Students

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Hanaa and her Students

About Hanaa

hanaaHanaa has a B.Sc in Biochemistry from McGill University and a B.Ed from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto. While at McGill, she was President of the Salsa Dancing Club, and volunteered in the music therapy program at a local hospital.

She is currently a seventh grade teacher at a French Immersion school in Toronto, Ontario. Her passions include building literacy in the maths and sciences, the arts, and promoting the French culture and language.

Hanaa believes that student development is as much about personal growth as it is academic. At the school where she currently teaches, she is a member of the choir team and a soccer coach. These clubs act as an outlet for students to manage stress, develop a skill they never knew they possessed, and harness a sense of community with those who share a common interest.

A Powerful Message


Hanaa Suleman

As students get older, the demands of curriculum and content become more rigorous.

It becomes increasingly difficult to make time for open-ended discussions about social issues and/or general well-being. As a seventh grade teacher, now familiar with the seventh grade material, along with my recent involvement in The Brick Project (TBP), I decided to make these types of discussions a priority this school year in my classroom.

As a team at TBP, we decided that showing the controversial Cheerios advertisement to my class would make a great follow up to the article by Verity and James.

Click here to read about how James Capon, a founding member of TBP, offers perspective on the Cheerios ad through his own background in the ad business.

The ad caused massive uproar due to its use of a biracial family. The comments section on YouTube had to be disabled because the commentary became so derogatory.

The Ad about The Smiling Cheerio Family

Here is the recent Cheerios ad which my students and I watched together:

Initially, I asked my students to write down their first responses to the Cheerios advertisement:

What was the ad about?

Did you like the family?

Was there anything strange about the family?  

In the discussion afterward, most students vocalized that they thought the ad was funny, and that the precocious little girl was cute but took her mother’s words too literally.

When I told my students about the negative attention the ad was getting they were shocked. Many felt that in 2013 people should not even notice skin color. They felt sad for the actors as well as the families of the actors, and emphasized that people cannot help who they fall in love with or the color of their skin.


I proceeded to ask my students why Cheerios made an ad with a mixed family, and their reactions were surprisingly quite divided.

Some felt that it was done for attention, while others felt that they were supporting and representing multicultural families. Regardless, the majority of students felt glad that Cheerios was brave enough to make an ad like this and they were equally pleased that Cheerios did not remove the ad from YouTube in light of the mounting criticism. Following our class discussion, I showed my students the “Kids React to Cheerios Ad” video.

Response to the Ad about The Smiling Cheerio Family

Here is the “Kids React to Cheerios Ad” video which I showed my students:

My students remained captivated for all 9 minutes.

They were elated to see that these kids shared their views regarding racial equality. They also hoped the actors and other people of mixed race background would see this video. The realists in the classroom pointed out that although the video had good intentions, it will likely incur the same hateful comments as the original commercial. Unfortunately, I was unable to disagree with them.

What came next was the most touching moment of the discussion for me.

One boy in the back raised his hand and said:

Kids against racism sends a powerful message.


I wanted my students to reflect on why this kind of intolerance is still prevalent in 2013. This led to a discussion of antiquated versus modern discrimination. When talking about “old school injustice” (as my students say), they mentioned slavery, segregation, and sexism.

“Cyber-bullying,” as it has been termed, is now a pervasive phenomenon – unlike traditional bullying, students cannot simply “walk away.”

At the time, these forms of intolerance were accepted by many and had been so for generations. Over time, human rights activists helped enact laws they believed would change the world. The result was that overt and explicit racism were no longer permitted. Many argue that we were left with a much more subtle, but no less destructive, form of discrimination and prejudice. While I agree that this is seen in the workplace or in cliques at school, the invention and evolution of the Internet allows discrimination to be just as glaring as before; anonymous, while still very public. The internet and social media allow people to be nameless and say whatever they please without fear of any social or legal repercussions.

The internet has also given rise to a new form of bullying.

“Cyber-bullying,” as it has been termed, is now a pervasive phenomenon and, unlike traditional bullying, students cannot escape it simply by “walking away.”

Indeed, with the ever-increasing popularity of social media, bullying has become more public than ever before.

So how do we stop it?


Many students suggested banning users from websites after they write hateful comments, or having a list of inappropriate words so that site editors can block comments containing those words. Sadly, it is all too easy for people to create new emails and usernames so they may continue with their spiteful ways. Harsher punishments for offenders and bullies will also not stop the hate.

On a global scale, I believe it is ultimately the ghettoizing of peoples that breeds contempt and intolerance.

Cultural assimilation and intermingling of people will help to curb the stereotyping and segregation of different groups of people.

In the classroom, this is actually the reason why teachers do “get to know you” or appreciate activities at the beginning of the year (and hopefully throughout the year as well). These activities help to foster a positive environment and a sense of belonging in children. After all, a person is less likely to hurt someone if they actually know something about them.