- Hillside Middle School
Teacher Sarah Giramia Inspired by Ugandan Roots
Sarah Giramia knows that the past year and a half have not been easy for her students.
It wasn’t easy for her either as a college student. She missed the in-person classes and learning from being with and around other people.
The Linden Grove eighth-grade English language arts teacher says she can see her students struggling with not having been together for the past few years.
“Kids are having a hard time transitioning,” said Giramia, who graduated from Western Michigan University in the fall of 2020 and from Loy Norrix High School in 2016. “In addition to all of the school work, they have to just get used to being around each other on a consistent basis and having adults watching what you’re doing.”
She laughs. “Sometimes a student will forget basic classroom etiquette. They might just get up in the middle of class, and I’ll think, ‘I’m talking. Why are you walking toward me?’”
Giramia offers her students a certain amount of grace, in part because she went through her own moments as a student, when she had to learn how to handle the classroom experience. Giramia, 23, was born in Uganda and moved to Kalamazoo when she was about 8 and her mother enrolled in a Western Michigan University doctoral program.
“One day my mom said we’re going to the United States. ‘Oh. OK,’” Giramia remembers thinking. “My brothers and I had never really thought about coming to the U.S. and we never thought about coming to a place called Kalamazoo. All we knew about the United States was New York or Los Angeles — not Michigan.”
In Kampala, Uganda, she attended school year round, wore a school uniform, and all of her teachers and most of her fellow students were Black. In the United States, she arrived in the middle of summer break, could wear what she wanted and found herself in a racially diverse school.
“It was my first time being exposed to a sense of diversity in a school setting,” she said. “That was a culture shock for sure. I really didn’t even know I was anything different, besides my culture of just being African. Coming here, I began to understand the identity of Blackness.”
That sense of identity has stayed with her. As a college student, she was one of the founders of the student organization, Future Teachers of Color, which provided networking and career preparation opportunities for fellow education students.
“We just realized that our classes were not as diverse as they should be and we wanted to increase the numbers of students who stay in the WMU education program,” Giramia said.
Giramia began working full time for KPS this school year. She originally thought that she would teach high school students, but her internships in the middle school setting helped change her mind.
“Middle-schoolers are a little mix of everything,” she said. “They’re still very impressionable — even if they think they’re not. They are a little crazy. A lot of these kids are crazy funny. They’re going to do their own thing. I think my personality is a little more middle school. I don’t know if high-schoolers would find my jokes as funny as middle- schoolers do.”
Teaching at Linden Grove is the fulfillment of a long dreamed of career. Her mother is an educator who began a school for war orphans in Uganda.
“She engulfed me in that world,” Giramia said. “I got a first-hand look at how important education was and is. I never wanted to take it for granted.” Nor did she want to disappoint the teachers who inspired her — teachers that she wants to emulate so she can inspire the next generation of students.
“I always knew your education was something that no one can take away from you, so I tried really hard to equip myself with the best education possible. I want my students to be able to do that as well.”