Here are ways that classes and a family chose to share Dr. King’s message of hope, justice, and equality prior to Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021. This was a starting point for each class. In every group, throughout the year, the lessons of empathy, compassion, inclusion, and equity are at the core of class discussions and experiences.
A book about a child, read by a child, was just the ticket for our Preschool students. The story of Sara, who wants to know what is so special about the front of the bus, is delightfully read by a boy named Jake who has his own YouTube channel. In a year when we haven’t been able to have Book Buddies, Jeanine and Susan felt like this was a great way to approach a difficult topic. Loosely based on Rosa Parks, the little girl in the story soon has the power of community behind her. You can hear Jake read The Bus Ride by William Miller and follow along here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOc7TmjQivI
Early Primary read We Are All Alike, We Are All Different written by The Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergartners. This book is so accessible for young children! They immediately grasped the concept that we all have a family, but our families are different; we all have a home, but our homes are different. This year’s group decided that if the students at Cheltenham could write a book, so could they! With the help of Genevieve and Susan, they are busy working on their illustrations showing how alike, and yet how different, we all are.
Another great book, Fair is Fair by Sonny Varela, was the jumping off point for a lively discussion by Primary Blue. In this tale, an elephant, a giraffe, and a hare all get their fair share of food. Then one day, they decide to pile up all of the food and distribute it equally. As you can imagine, the hare can barely move after too much food, and the elephant is still hungry after not enough food. At the end of the book, Krista presented different scenarios to the students who then discussed what was fair, what was equal, and which was needed in each situation.
In the two weeks prior to Dr. MLK Jr. Day, Juniors began a themed Morning Meeting unit about Compromise and a Humanities unit about Antarctica, both of which led to talking about the different ways people have created peaceful environments where everyone can work together with trust and respect to make the world a better place. The Antarctic Treaty was highlighted as a promising compromise between countries where they all share power, responsibility and information. After talking and watching a video about Dr. King’s life, Juniors had a heart-felt discussion about the false compromise of segregation and the work that many leaders including Dr. King did to end segregation and Jim Crow laws, and how far we still have to go before our work is finished.
A bag of lemons became a strong visual aid for our Spanish teacher, Nina, and her son. They each picked a lemon from a bag, looked it over carefully, then put it back in the bag with the other lemons. When Nina gently shook the bag, then spread the fruit on the table, she and her son each found “their lemons” immediately. She peeled all of the lemons. Now it was much harder to figure out which were the lemons they had picked. Finally, once the lemons were sliced, they all looked exactly the same. Her son learned that while we have traits that make our appearances look different, we are all the same on the inside. Bonus: This activity concluded with lemonade!
Having just come through an election year, Seniors explored the through line of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to citizens to vote and the recent election runoffs in Georgia. They watched a clip of Dr. King saying, “Each of us has a moral responsibility, if we are of voting age and registered to vote, to participate in that decision. I come here to urge every person under the sound of my voice, to go to the polls…and vote your convictions.” That was followed by a TED talk by Stacey Abrams and the group learning about the Fair Fight, the voting rights organization she started.
Middle Schoolers are spending the year studying American history and also discussing it through the lens of current events. Reviewing the steps it took to move from the idea of a day in honor of Dr. King to the creation of a federal holiday connected perfectly to what students had learned about the legislative branch of government and how a bill becomes law. They read the 1986 proclamation by President Reagan upon the first observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday. This document stated, “We rejoice because, in his short life, Dr. King, by his preaching, his example, and his leadership, helped to move us closer to the ideals on which America was founded. The students were asked, what were the ideals upon which American was founded? This brought them back to their study of the Declaration of Independence. Further in the proclamation, the document states, “Dr. King’s activism was rooted in the true patriotism that cherishes America’s ideals and strives to narrow the gap between those ideals and reality.” There was much discussion of the definition of a “true patriot,” noting that to point out flaws is not unpatriotic, but one’s goal in pointing them out should be to work to eliminate them and bring America closer to those founding ideals. Students thought about: How does Dr. King fit this definition? Who else have they studied who fits this definition? Who else do they know about who fits this definition of true patriotism? Finally, they looked at President Reagan’s call to “do more.” That has been Middle School’s focus all year long, to take what they are learning and use it to make a difference in the world.