Sajeenthiran gives back to community

Sajeenthiran gives back to community

City resident who immigrated from Sri Lanka now teaching at charter school

CENTRAL FALLS – Kanagaratnam “Sajee” Sajeenthiran understands how difficult it can be to overcome significant life challenges.

Sajeenthiran and his family were victims of the Sri Lankan Civil War, forced out of their homeland after close friends and neighbors were killed in the conflict. He had to learn a new culture, new language, and new way of life when he arrived in the United States 20 years ago.

The Pawtucket resident was recently appointed as a math interventionist at Nowell Leadership Academy, a Central Falls public charter school dedicated to educating high school students who are pregnant or raising children. In his first education job, he supports math teachers and provides one-on-one tutoring to students.

Sajeenthiran told The Valley Breeze he loves having the chance to use his own struggles and experience to help others. As a parent of two children, he says he has plenty of advice to offer these students as they seek to improve their lives.

“I know the struggle, and I know the importance of the education,” he said. “I always try to relate with them with what I’ve gone through.”

Sajeenthiran is married to Sri Priya Tharsini Sajeenthiran, and they have two children, ages 4 and 18 months. The family lives near McCoy Stadium.

Sajeenthiran isn’t kidding when he says he knows the struggle. Growing up, he was often denied basic rights by the government, biked 12 miles in intense heat to get to school, and was even beaten by members of the military. Basic utilities, like electricity and running water, were scarce.

The Nowell Academy was founded four years ago to help pregnant and parenting young adults graduate from high school. The school serves a population of people who might otherwise be dropping out of traditional public schools because the challenges are too great, say its leaders.

Sajeenthiran took English classes at the International Institute of Rhode Island, earned a GED and went on to Rhode Island College. He volunteered at the International Institute, a place “that gave me everything,” and decided he wanted to give education a try to give back in ways that he benefited from when he came to the United States in 1996.

Sajeenthiran worked the past several years at TD Bank and then Webster Bank before getting the job at the Nowell Academy. He still sends part of his earnings to relatives who weren’t able to make it to the States.

Nowell’s executive director, Toby Shepherd, said that Sajeenthiran has done wonders with students, connecting in ways not everyone can.

Life is challenging for many young people, said Sajeenthiran, and even tougher for young people who become parents when they’re still in high school. A school like Nowell Academy, founded in 2013, helps guide those young people in the right direction, giving them a better chance at a good-paying job and “more success in life,” he said. The benefits to society and the state of Rhode Island are great, he said.

Nowell Academy accommodates students with a flexible schedule and special services while still maintaining tough academic standards.

According to Shepherd, one of the biggest obstacles to students getting their diploma from the school is being able to get there every day. The school takes steps, like helping with childcare or transportation, to make sure students get there, he said.

Part of what makes Nowell Academy so successful is the individual attention that students get, said Sajeenthiran. Leaders at the school do “a phenomenal job” relating to students with the kind of advice and instruction they need, he said.

Sajeenthiran says he’s happy to help erase misconceptions about immigrants and their contributions to society. Like him, most immigrants use their opportunities to succeed, he said, and can be found in key positions at some of the country’s most successful companies.


Sajeenthiran is a very humble person and he knows the meaning of what is struggle is
He is a helping hand for our Tamil community now I am very happy he is lending his hand to other communities too.