Walking into Room 12 at General Byng School, you can feel the love. Grade 1/2 teacher Sanjeeva Louis has rows of books on display, colourful art on the walls and images of Black historical figures everywhere.
Louis grew up in Trinidad before settling in Winnipeg and is now into her third year of teaching. Her Grade 2 students are the same ones she taught in Kindergarten. “They know who Martin Luther King Junior is, and they know who Rosa Parks is,” she says with pride.
Her passion and dedication show up in the time she puts into learning activities, like her recent necklace project. “I was just trying to think, how do I make the kids remember something?” she says.
The historical figures on the necklaces extend from the 1700s to the 2000s. Students get to choose one to wear for the entire day, carrying the image and the person’s story with them. At the end of the day, they are challenged with writing the person’s name and what they are known for.
2020 brought renewed attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and Louis is building on this momentum.
“I teach my students that Black people have made huge contributions to societies and civilizations around the world,” she says. “Students need to be aware and celebrate the accomplishments of Black Canadians and Black people around the world who have contributed to science, medicine, education, technology and other fields.”
Louis’s reach has extended beyond her classroom to the whole school. Her bulletin board display by the office stops students in their tracks. In early February, she gave a presentation to her peers as part of a PD day, where she bravely and compassionately approached challenging topics.
“I’m trying to do this in a very delicate way, because we need to do this in order to empower the kids in our school. That’s why I’m doing this. I could just go along my merry way and teach, but I’m doing this because I was that kid, I know how I felt.”
Her dream is to inspire. “I want to spark an awareness, and I want to spark some kind of movement,” she says. “We are 99.9% alike, and we have so much more the same than we are different. This is how I start my lesson.” True to her ideals, Louis ensures inclusivity by sculpting her lesson plan around a calendar that acknowledges all of her students’ cultural backgrounds and celebrations, embedding them in her curriculum all year long.
Louis is grateful for the support of her administration, noting that she could not do what she does without their support. Collen Roberts, principal at General Byng, is grateful to have Louis as part of her teaching team.
“She is an inspiration in her classroom, our school and our community, sharing resources in classrooms and co-teaching at all grade levels. All students are enriched by seeing and experiencing diversity in content, literacy, art and communication.”
Louis would love to hear from anyone looking to know more about Black history and how to teach it in an empowering way.
Learn more about Black History Month here.