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‘Phenomenal’ teacher earns prestigious history award

Stouffville teacher Leone Andrea Izzo of Oscar Peterson Public School is the proud recipient of the country’s most prestigious history honour.

He received the Governor General’s History Award for Teaching Excellence, which is presented to educators who demonstrate excellence in teaching Canadian history by Canada’s National History Society.

Izzo is recognized for his work leading students through the No. 2 Construction Battalion Project, which allowed students to explore the untold stories of Canada’s first segregated unit and create a digital exhibition. On Remembrance Day, students transformed their classroom into a virtual museum for the school community to visit.

“The history and the stories of Canada’s past is as diverse and fascinating as its people; the history of all Canadians is valuable and worth telling,” Izzo says. “As a discipline, the study of history offers many vital skills to students in the 21st century. Thanks to my colleagues who developed this resource, students can continue to learn the important history of the No. 2 Construction Battalion.”

Also known as the Black Battalion, the No. 2 Construction Battalion was created during the First World War. The non-combatant unit was the first and only all-Black battalion-sized formation in Canadian military history. Members faced racism throughout the war but showed resilience, determination and strength in the face of adversity, the Department of National Defence reports. The unit was officially disbanded following the end of the war in 1920 without ceremony or recognition for their service or sacrifices on behalf of Canada.

“We are so proud of Mr. Izzo and his work to highlight this important history. The classroom museum his class created in collaboration with the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) Museum and Archives helped raise awareness and understanding among students throughout our school,” says Oscar Peterson P.S. Vice Principal Vanessa Colabawalla. “It’s wonderful to see his work recognized in such a prestigious way.”

The project relied upon classroom resources created in collaboration with YRDSB Museum and Archives and the support of educators Rebekah Mitchell and Christina Blake. They used stories, photographs, documents uncovered by historian and educator Kathy Grant and her team from the Legacy Voices Project, who provided students with mentorship and hands-on experience.

“We were so pleased to see Mr. Izzo recognized for his work with the No. 2 Construction Battalion Project and his efforts to bring this important learning into his classroom in such an engaging way. YRDSB Museum and Archives Curator Rebekah Mitchell.

“He is such a phenomenal teacher, who is a true inspiration to not only his students, but also his colleagues. This is an important part of Canada’s history and his work has helped to broaden students’ understanding of the determination of the soldiers of this battalion and the anti-Black racism they experienced.”

Learn more about the YRDSB’s No. 2 Construction Battalion Map and how Izzo worked with the Museum and Archives staff to introduce it in his classroom. YRDSB Museum and Archives also received an Ontario Museum Association Award of Excellence Honourable Mention for the No. 2 Construction Battalion Project. Learn more about the Legacy Voices Project at www.blackcanadianveterans.com.

Photo: Leone Andrea Izzo receives the Governor General’s History Award for Teaching Excellence from Governor General of Canada Mary Simon. 

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