Queen Charlotte teacher helps students celebrate Black History Month year round
February might be Black History Month in Canada, but at Queen Charlotte Intermediate School it’s celebrated throughout the whole school year.
“We remind the students and staff that it’s Black History Month in February—and every day,” says Monia Kayijuka, a Grade 8 French Language Arts teacher at the junior high school in Charlottetown.
“It’s not just something that’s related to one month,” she says. “Sometimes we start talking about it in September.”
Every year, since 2018, Kayijuka has been leading students in a variety of activities that recognize the important role Black people play in Canada’s multi-culturalism and the contributions they’ve made throughout its history.
“It was an opportunity to give them curiosity,” says Kayijuka, who moved to PEI from Montreal where she says she was used to seeing diversity.
However, she knows that isn’t the case for everyone at the school.
“I might be the first Black woman students get introduced to.”
Each year, Kayijuka and some of her colleagues work with students on projects and presentations, profiling important Black leaders and historical figures.
“They didn’t know how far back Black Canadians’ history goes,” says Allison Giggey, a school librarian who’s been working with Kayijuka on Black History Month activities for the past four years.
Giggey leads a course called Library Skills that teaches kids how to gather information from a variety of sources – such as books, online, and community resources.
She and Kayijuka encouraged students to research Black Canadians for their projects.
Through their research, students have been learning things they didn’t know about before, says Giggey, such as Halifax’s Africville and The Bog in downtown Charlottetown—two predominantly Black communities where many Black slaves lived at the time, and which sometimes get overlooked in history textbooks.
“Those kinds of things were a little bit eye opening for them,” Giggey says.
But it’s these stories that are important for students to learn about, say some of Kayijuka’s former students.
“It helps educate us all on what happened in the past and how to move forward,” says Alex Murphy, a Grade 9 student who participated in Kayijuka’s project last year.
“It puts things into perspective.”
Murphy and her classmate Bella Vos profiled Harry Jerome, a Canadian track and field Olympian who set seven world records over the course of his athletic career. The two drew a portrait of Jerome that still hangs in Kayijuka’s classroom.
Other Black Canadians students profiled include Viola Desmond, Donovan Bailey, and Barbara Howard, whose portraits are displayed throughout the school along with many others.
“Learning about them helps us keep their memories and stories alive,” says Vos. “It’s something that sticks with you, so you can teach someone else.”
It’s this kind of insight Kayijuka feels will help students see the world from a broader viewpoint.
“My hope is that in doing this, the students will get even more curious and get out of their comfort zones,” she says.
Kayijuka hopes learning about Black Canadians will remind students of Canada’s proud multi-culturalism and encourage them to embrace their own identities, no matter how they might be defined.
“I tell them, ‘Whenever you get the chance to speak about your truth, do it’—because this is what learning and teaching is about.”