Teachers pass on MLK's message to students

Student artwork dots some classroom displays through Juneau’s schools as teachers have passed on Martin Luther King Jr.’s message prior to the holiday.


Large hand-crafted postage stamps dot one wall at Auke Bay Elementary, while depictions of kindness and fairness are posted at Gastineau Elementary School.

Katy Ritter’s first grade class at Gastineau spent time learning about King’s legacy this week by tying in important classroom rules.

“With the class in January, the honeymoon period is over and a lot of kids kind of forget kind ways to talk to each other,” Ritter said. “That’s one of the main rules we have in the classroom: ‘be safe, be kind, be responsible.’ I wanted to use Martin Luther King’s teaching, trying to remind students how to be kind to each other and what fairness is, treating each other with respect.”

She read a story to the students about King as a child, who recounted a story about a friend telling him they couldn’t play together anymore because of the color of King’s skin. Ritter said she relayed that message to how students treat each other in the classroom and on the playground.

“(I wanted to) respect and remember the things that he worked for and how we can use kindness and fairness to treat others,” Ritter said. “I think it’s hard sometimes when there are holidays and you don’t just want to bring it up for one day why we don’t have school. If we can link his teachings and this person who is a hero in our history, if we can link it to one of the rules in our school it will mean more and make it last longer.”

Ritter also created a “kindness award” in the classroom. Students can grab a piece of paper and write down a “kindness” they observed of a another student. That goes in a bucket and at the end of the week both the student who reported the good deed and the one who performed the deed get to have lunch time with Ritter. At the end of each week those who were honored with recognition by their classmates can take the award home.

“I really wanted kids to think about how they treat each other,” Ritter said. “The kids have started giving each other awards for kind acts.”

One note was for “Nora” from “Anna” for playing with Nora. Other deeds included inviting a student to lunch, playing tag, helping clean up, helping another student to the office, and other similar acts.

Part of the lesson included creating a drawing of King’s message of kindness and fairness, which Ritter left open-ended to their interpretation.

“Kids interpreted it in very different ways,” she said. “Some kids wrote about how to treat people — with specifically don’t discriminate against people because of the color of their skin — directly related to Dr. King and his experiences.”

Others related more to current school topics of everyone getting to play on the playground and slide.

At Auke Bay Elementary School, Monica Witter’s fifth graders spent three days learning about King, creating a large postage stamp of what they learned.

Witter asked them to include King, his name and a message, but otherwise left it open to creative interpretation.

“There were different interpretations of what they took out of what we’ve been talking about the past couple of days,” Witter said. “My goal was to talk about segregation and civil rights. That was the emphasis, the impact. I liked some of their interpretations.”

Witter said students made connections on their own — such as the discussion of King’s assassination. Witter said in one student’s drawing the student wrote the reason was because some people still wanted segregation.

Witter has been doing a read-aloud of a biography of King for the students as they prepare for their “wax museum” projects. At Auke Bay, each year students prepare a person of positive influence from history to act as.

Witter also has lessons on vocabulary — such as segregation, justice — and on Friday they watched “I Have a Dream.”

Student Jordan Bluett enjoyed the stamp project.

“I just put the best drawing I could of Martin Luther King’s face and then I just put at the bottom of the stamp ‘I Have a Dream,’” he said, also including King’s initials.

Bluett said he learned about segregation and what King did to help achieve voting and equal bus riding rights.

“All I really want to say is Martin Luther King is just really a great guy,” he said.

Student Hannah Sherman also was interested in the topic.

“I learned that he preached about having rights and about having white people and colored people be able to be mixed up and be able to ride the bus no matter what,” Sherman said. “... Now its fair for everybody. ... If I were to ever be somebody from back them I would try and stop it.”

Miranda Mitchell, student, learned King was a civil rights leader.

“I learned that he started the Freedom March,” she said. “He’s important because he stopped segregation and made it so colored people have the same rights as whites.”

Aside from King’s battle against segregation and the end of his life, students also took up his message.

“I think he was important because he fought violence with love not harm,” said student Wolf Dostal.

The class even put interpretation on the postage cost of the stamps. Prices ranged from 6 cents to more than $25 trillion.

“They’re thinking — he’s an important figure in history,” Witter said. “Someone said you have to make it affordable, so not more than 30 cents. We talked about the emphasis of stamps and how it gives the message of important figures.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.


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