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Honoring MLK’s Legacy in the K–1 classroom

This week my students studied the importance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We read the picture book biography Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. The book described scenes from King’s life, beginning with his childhood experience of seeing “White Only” signs throughout his hometown. He questions his mother about their meaning, and she assures him, “You are as good as anyone.” Listening to his father preach, the boy asserts, “When I grow up, I’m going to get big words, too.” Rappaport also touches upon King’s role in the Montgomery bus strike that followed Rosa Park’s 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger and his subsequent efforts as a civil rights crusader. After briefly describing the circumstances of his death, the story concludes with the statement, “His big words are alive for us today.”

Martin’s Big Words had moving illustrations and powerful text that engaged the students. They were captured by the “Whites Only” sign and referred to it a few times since reading the book. “Meghan, would black people have been able to go here, sit here, etc., without Dr. King’s words?” asked a student. The book inspired some thought-provoking conversations for our class. It conveyed the message that we must remember to fight with words, rather than our fists. It encouraged the students to consider the limitless possibilities of their future.

We followed the book with listening to the song “With My Own Two Hands” by Ben Harper. Here is a sample of the lyrics below and a link to the music video:

I can change the world
with my own two hands.
Make a better place
with my own two hands.
Make a kinder place
with my own two hands.

We listened to the reggae-like beat and thought of all the things we could do, help, or change with our hands. Each student then made a poster about things that they could do and some examples were “Save the bees,” “Help people in need,” “Send more wood to earthquakey places, for starters, Haiti.” We all felt a renewed energy and we were inspired by how we can help the world. What a great way to start 2017!

Meghan Brtnik

is a classroom teacher on the K-2 team. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Meghan was a substitute teacher at an international baccalaureate school in Toronto and at the Latin School of Chicago. She graduated from York University, Toronto, with a M.Ed. at the primary/junior level and completed an additional qualification course in special education. Meghan earned a B.A. from the University of Western Ontario in honors psychology, focusing on the psychological and social foundations in human behavior. In addition, Meghan has worked in a Montessori school, tutored students individually, and lived and worked at an all-girls boarding school.
For fun, Meghan loves traveling, trying out new restaurants, exploring new neighborhoods, swimming, reading, and walking.

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