‘These are lessons that are universal’

Krystle Wagner • Jan 13, 2018 at 11:00 AM

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Monday, Grand Haven Area Public Schools students will be dedicating some time to take a closer look at King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and taking action themselves.

The purpose behind this year’s “open the door with kindness”-themed celebration is “to learn, to serve and to be inspired,” said Mary Jane Evink, the school district’s director of instructional services.

Prior to leaving for winter break, students in kindergarten through eighth grade began to take a deeper look at King’s famous speech. Evink said the speech is “ideal” to practice close reading with indelible images. Evink said that King’s legacy invites people to “rise up and join history.”

Students in grades 3-8 considered ways they could “open the door with kindness” to other people and reflect on the outcomes of those experiences.

“When you’re responding to King’s invitation to rise up, you’re opening the door to relationships, and that means more inclusive treatment of everyone,” Evink said.

Although classes will pause on Monday to reflect on what they’ve learned, Evink said they wanted to weave the lessons in with what classrooms are working on to provide a quality learning opportunity.

On Monday, Grand Haven High School will have a school improvement lesson about King’s mission of raising awareness about discrimination, racial segregation and equality. Students will also be asked how they can live out King’s dream, Principal Tracy Wilson said.

The high school will introduce The Chalkboard Project, which is aimed at promoting empathy and changing negative perceptions. The project started at Spring Lake High School.

In February, GHHS students will take pictures holding a chalkboard with a negative perception people might have about them. At a later date, they will replace the negative perception with positive words.

In March, Calvin Terrell, a speaker and educator, will speak with the Grand Haven and Central high school students, staff and community members.

After hearing Terrell speak in Holland in October 2016, some students approached administrators about having him speak in Grand Haven. Evink said the students requested a speaker who would push their thinking about social injustices, equality and inclusion.

Beginning Monday, the district will also launch a two-week non-perishable food drive. Donations will be distributed to area food pantries. Items collected by GHHS students will benefit the school’s Bucs Care Food Pantry.

Mary A. White Elementary School Principal Valerie Livingston is one of the members of the planning committee for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day teaching and learning aspects. Livingston, who is also a member of the district’s diversity/climate committee, said it’s their duty to provide time dedicated to teaching, learning and reflecting about topics related to King’s dream.

“It is our hope to provide the students of Grand Haven with the knowledge and tools necessary to be empathetic and caring citizens who understand history and its impact on us today so they might live in a society where people are judged only by the content of their character — not the color of their skin or where they are from,” Livingston said.

As students look closely at King’s words, Livingston said she hopes they will be inspired and that the activities will find a way into their lives — to accept others, live peacefully together, stand up to injustice, and find their own ways to “open the door to kindness.”

Evink said the district administrators hope the staff and students “learn, are inspired and serve.”

“I hope families talk about this because these are lessons that are universal,” she said.

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