MHS Students Develop & Implement MLK Day Curriculums at Middle School and High School
Last Monday, the nation observed Martin Luther King Day (MLK Day)–a federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., a leader of the Civil Rights Movement who was assassinated in 1968. While many school districts close in observance of MLK Day, Manchester Community Schools chose to remain in session a half day and close on President’s Day, the federal holiday in February which honors George Washington’s Birthday.
As a result, Klager Elementary, the Middle School and the High School all used the half-day to learn about Martin Luther King, racial discrimination and the Civil Rights movement. And while all of the programming was notable, the MLK Day program at the Middle School was very special as it was designed by MHS junior Caitlyn Baskins and executed by Caitlyn and high school students she had recruited as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project.
The Middle School Martin Luther King Jr. Program began with an assembly showing a short biography film about Martin Luther King Jr. and a speech by one of Caitlyn’s classmates, Nehemiah Ingram. The students then rotated through their regular class schedule, but during each period all of the students were doing the same lesson. All lessons were about civil rights or segregation but the activities were tied to specific class subjects.
During Language Arts classes, students watched a video about Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and then wrote a short narrative about what it would have been like to have participated in the march. During the Social Studies lesson, the students were given a voter identity card which identified their gender, race, or if their state had a literacy test which affected their right to vote. Four elections were held, one in 1800, 1879, 1920 and 1975. For some of the students, based on their gender or race, they learned that they were not eligible to vote until 1975. During the Math lesson, the students learned about racial diversity percentages in different places in the United States including Manchester. Caitlyn even designed back up activities on-topic for each class in case the scheduled activities ended early.
One of Caitlyn’s more innovative lessons was on segregation. The students viewed pictures of segregated water fountains, bathrooms and buses. To try to experience segregation on a small scale, the students wore a sticker that identified them as either “Stripes,” “Plaids” or “Polka Dots.” For the rest of the day, the students had one assigned water fountain they were allowed to use. Most often their assigned water fountain was on the other side of the building. At the end of the day, the middle school students talked about what it was like to be in 5th grade but have to go to the 7th/8th hallway to get a drink.
There were 17 high school students that volunteered to teach the lessons to the middle school students including included Logen Alexa, Rachel Allen, Alli Bash, Hannah Bradshaw, Jessica Hutchison, Nehemiah Ingram, Alivia Johnson, Natasha Kominars, Carren Matson, Alexa Moore, John Psarouthakis, Audrey Pierce, Charles Rankin, Allison Reppert, Victoria St. Charles, Gi West and Ethan Whitney. These students committed to working with Caitlyn in September and attended multiple training sessions, dedicating a significant amount of time to this project before last Monday.
Caitlyn, herself, has been working on this project for a year. She presented the program to the school and received permission to carry it out in June. The Girl Scout Council approved her proposal in August. After that, she did detailed research and lesson planning. Caitlyn estimates she has put in about 90 hours of work on this project so far. Her work isn’t done though–she is using student surveys completed at the end of the lessons on Monday and notes from debriefing the high school volunteers to compile a synopsis for the school and small changes that could be made if the project were to be repeated in the future. Caitlyn also must submit a detailed Gold Award Report to the Girl Scouts by February 1st. This report is the final step in her Gold Award project. She plans to attend a Girl Scout recognition event in May at Washtenaw Community College where she will receive her Gold Award recognition, the highest and most prestigious recognition a Girl Scout can earn.
It was after MLK Day last year that Caitlyn came up with the idea. She felt that if Manchester is going to have school on MLK Day, the day should be focused on Martin Luther King’s impact on civil rights, segregation, and history. She also wanted all of the students to be doing the same activities at the same time, regardless of class schedule. Caitlyn explained that the water fountain activity made a bigger impact by having the whole school participate than if it were just one class.
Caitlyn found all of the administrators easy to work with and enthusiastic. Lindsay Hannah was Caitlyn’s Gold Award Project mentor. Hannah is from Project Success and Manchester SRSLY based in the High School and Middle Schools. Caitlyn stated, “We have worked together before and she was extremely helpful in advising me as I developed the program.” She also asked to thank all of the teachers and staff at the Manchester Middle School for their support and involvement. “It was a little intimidating to present my lessons plans to the Middle School teachers because they were my teachers just a few years ago. But they were excited about what I had developed and proud of my hard work.”
Hannah’s role as a mentor was to review Caitlyn’s play and give feedback. She emphasized that Caitlyn developed all of it on her own. Her role did allow her to witness the program and the middle school student’s reactions close up. She stated, “In my opinion the MLK Day was an amazing day … Middle School students were especially touched by Nehemiah Ingram’s speech. I also feel like there are no words that can adequately describe how blown away I am by the event and curriculum Caitlyn put together. She spent an incredible amount of time ensuring that each lesson was worthwhile, engaging, and thought-provoking. I believe the effort and time really paid off, because it was one of the best MLK Jr events I have ever been to, and it was clear by student responses that they also had a strong positive experience.”
At Klager elementary, MLK Day was spent mostly as a routine day with special video viewing,s including a recording of the “I Have a Dream” speech. However, Klager students had learned about Martin Luther King on the previous Monday with a special assembly, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” a one-man production exploring the life of Dr. King featuring Mr. Pertel of Mobile Ed Productions, who sometimes impersonated Martin Luther King and other times told stories about him. Klager principal Karin Villarreal described the presenter as very powerful and well-informed.
“He used simple props and his powerful voice and gentle gestures really conveyed the nature of Dr. King,” Villarreal said. “I found the presenter wonderful to speak with and he was so very positive and grateful to share his message.”
Villarreal explained that different grade levels were able to take away different things from the assembly. Mrs. Merrill’s first grade class was completely engrossed and the assembly raised many questions for them. Their conversation continued within the classroom through the end of the day. The third and fourth-grade students liked his pacing and truly understood the material while the kindergartners of Mrs. Birgy’s class had the honor of hearing him warm up and were very impressed by his voice.
Manchester High School held its second annual MLK Day Diversity Forum. There were seminars on identity, authority, school-to-prison pipeline, arguing with dignity, and immigration. These activities were facilitated by 18 high school student leaders who had gone through the same or similar activities in the fall at EMU. One of the facilitators, MHS junior Amelia Herron explained, “The students were taught about how it would feel to ‘come out’ with a secret to family members and community members and how different experiences could influence that; how frustrating it can be to be part of the School to Prison Pipeline; showing that there are different opinions about the Confederate Flag; a conversation on why trust in authority has been on the decline; and a substantive conversation about the positives and the negatives of immigration.”
Principal Kevin Mowrer stated that the students did a great job wrestling with these topics during the forum. At the end of the day, students signed a pledge to “listen and be nice” as a way to act on what they learned. These signs will be displayed in the hallways at MHS.
While the Martin Luther King activities last Monday may have been successful, unfortunately the district did not meet the 75% attendance threshold. In fact, the high school did not even have 50% attendance. This means that the day does not “count” and according to a report by Superintendent Cherie Vannatter at the school board meeting later that night, the district may lose up to $6,000 of badly needed state funding this year because of it.