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Volunteers participate in school MLK awareness events

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By Rob Zolman / Valley Journal

POLSON – In celebration of the life and legacy of civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., students across the state participated in MLK Read for Peace events in their classrooms. Charlo Elementary School, Linderman Elementary School and K. William Harvey Elementary School were among the local participants. 

The MLK Read for Peace project places volunteers in kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms to read age-appropriate books about King. The reading event originated in Missoula almost ten years ago. King’s birthday is observed during a national holiday every third Monday in January to spread the word about the life and work of the civil rights leader who lost his life in 1968 to an assassin’s bullet.

Megan Ahern, a Montana AmeriCorps leader with Montana Campus Compact and Salish Kootenai College Upward Bound program, organized this year’s events in the Mission Valley. According to Ahern, a project like MLK Read for Peace is important because it encourages elementary students to think about equality and inclusivity through civil rights education. 

“Considering the divisive nature of racial inequality, I believe that the earlier we teach future generations about the importance of equality, the better,” said Ahern.

Volunteer Allison Grant, a Salish Kootenai College Upward Bound team member, stood at the front of Mr. Boen’s second-grade class at Linderman Elementary and read “My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” The book chronicled key events in King’s life through the perspective of his son Martin Luther King III. It touched on topics like school segregation, police violence, protests and the assassination. After visiting Mr. Boen’s classroom, Grant talked about the opportunity to help students know who King was.

“I am glad I got to do it this year,” said Grant. “I think it’s important to keep the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. alive in kids’ minds. What he fought for is just as important today as when he was alive.”

At the conclusion of the reading activity, students were given the chance to write poems about peace or take out their art supplies to draw pictures of what they thought would make the world a better place or what they could do to create fairness and equality.

A fifth-grader at Charlo Elementary School wrote about peace: “Even if people don’t believe in peace, there will always be some in their hearts. There is some in all of our hearts.” 

Ahern said the students did a fantastic job exploring the event. “Something that stood out to me while reading to several classrooms in multiple schools was how consistently impressed I was with the maturity level of the students I encountered.” 

Ahern further explained: “Many of the poems and drawings that students produced during follow-up activities demonstrated and conveyed an understanding of equality of all types, examples included boys and girls working together and same-sex couples walking in parks. It was interesting to me that, for many students, the lessons from the Martin Luther King, Jr. readings focused on equality of all groups, not just racial equality, which are among the key educational goals of the Read for Peace program.”

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