It’s not easy being an educator of America’s future. “I work with over 150 adults every day who go home exhausted, because they are doing everything they can to reach and teach children,” says Freedom Siyam ’00.
Siyam is the principal of Balboa High School in San Francisco’s Excelsior district. “This area is the last bastion of the working class family in the city,” he says. All over the Bay Area, rents and home prices have skyrocketed as Silicon Valley has swollen and high-paid tech workers price people out of their neighborhoods.
“Regardless of what district, our families are educationally underserved,” Siyam says. “There’s just not enough money that goes into funding public education. And our students’ families are just holding on to whatever they have left. And they don’t know that they’ll be here the next day.”
Siyam is not one to surrender to the inevitable. “Going into education was a conscious, intentional choice to reach students that were just like me. If I could have a positive impact on someone who is apathetic, as I was in high school, and if I can help someone find some sort of purpose, then I can continue to do my job,” he says.
In his senior year of high school in Seattle, Siyam says in his calm and understated way, he “went through a pretty traumatic experience where my friend shot this dude. I witnessed the whole thing. It was a significant emotional event in my life. It precipitated a lot of important questioning of my own direction.”
Suddenly, he says, he needed to go to college, he needed to be an educator, he needed to make a difference in communities where safety is at a premium and need is rampant.
Siyam says that Multicultural Student Services was critical in recruiting him and facilitating his transfer from Seattle Central Community College to Pullman and Washington State University. At WSU, the Filipino American was an activist and mentor for other underrepresented minorities.
He misses the Palouse but he might soon have reason to visit. “My stepson Derek is applying to universities,” he says. “I’m hoping he chooses WSU.”