Martin Luther King Jr. celebrated in Martha’s Vineyard schools

The high school roof will be replaced. — File photo by Susan Safford

This week and next many students in Island schools will take part in activities to learn about and pay tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A Federal holiday honors him on Monday, January 21.

A Baptist minister, Reverend King was a prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s in protest of racial discrimination in federal and state law. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts to fight racial inequality through nonviolent activism.

Reverend King was assassinated in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed a law creating a holiday to commemorate him in 1983. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed the third Monday in January, around the time of his birthday on January 15.

Many Island teachers are making sure their students know what the holiday is all about before they head home for the three-day weekend. In response to an email The Times sent to all Island school principals last week, Oak Bluffs School principal Richie Smith and Tisbury School principal John Custer provided some examples of classroom activities taking place at their schools.

Mr. Smith said this week’s community meeting for students in kindergarten through grade four would pay tribute to Reverend King. In addition, the school’s youngest students read books about Reverend King and watched a video about the book, “Martin’s Big Words,” to learn about his kindness. Afterwards, the children wrote about how they might be kind like Dr. King and their writings were displayed on bulletin boards, Mr. Smith said.

As a symbol of the diversity that Reverend King preached about, Island Grown Schools coordinator Kaila Binney helped second-graders plant a variety of seeds that will grow into different types of plants that can live side by side.

Music will also be used to help students understand Reverend King’s role in the civil rights movement, Mr. Smith said. Songs sung by all music classes, from kindergarteners through grade eight, will include ones sung during the marches and demonstrations, as well as songs about Reverend King and other important civil rights figures.

In some middle school classes, activities will center around gospel and soul music that represent a theme of civil rights messages consistent with Reverend King’s important work, Mr. Smith said. Students will read along with printed lyrics as they listen to artists such as Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke, Billie Holiday, and Sam Moore. Afterwards, teachers will provide insights and historical references, and students will write short essays.

At Tisbury School, Mr. Custer said there is no school-wide assembly scheduled for the holiday because of the wide variety of ages and degree of understanding among students in kindergarten through grade eight. Instead, teachers will address the holiday in their own way, according to their students’ grade level.For example, third-grader teacher Jill Waxweiler is reading picture books about Reverend King and writings about his life, followed by questions for comprehension practice, Mr. Custer said. Ms. Waxweiler also plans to show her students an old videotape of Oprah Winfrey’s show that has interviews of Reverend King’s family, news clips from his speeches, and footage from the 1963 March on Washington.

Third-grade teacher Anne Williamson read her students the book “Peace Begins with You” by Katharine Scholes to inspire their creation of flip-up books with their own writings, based on the phrases, “Peace sounds like…feels like…” etc. Ms. Williamson also discussed Reverend King’s significance in terms of the national holiday, and had her students read and copy two paragraphs from his “I Have a Dream” speech,” Mr. Custer said.

Seventh- and eighth-graders in social studies teacher Reuben Fitzgerald’s classes also listened to Reverend King’s speech yesterday and wrote essays in response. He planned to show the film “Boycott” starring actor Jeffrey Wright to his students today.