MLK Jr. Day of Service @ Roosevelt Middle School
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federally recognized holiday to explore and celebrate the amazing accomplishments over time in civil rights, specifically with MLK Jr. In Red Lodge, students go to school on this holiday. While this frustrates some as many federal holidays are observed by closing government organizations, it provides an excellent opportunity to fully engage young people in conversations and activities surrounding this issue. Power Up, Speak Out! worked with Red Lodge’s Roosevelt Middle School in January of 2016 to create a day full of activities. We would love to see other schools working to create similar situations. If you are interested, here is a step-by-step guide of what we did last year. But we encourage you to adapt to your own school and be creative.
**We will be celebrating MLK Day at Roosevelt Middle School again this year. Look for more information in the coming months!
Step 1: Set up a meeting with your principal and school administration to discuss the idea of celebrating MLK Day as a school. Decide what is a realistic amount of time to spend on activities — 15 minutes, a couple hours, a full day? Decide what theme you want to address; there is a lot to cover regarding civil rights! Discuss who is responsible for what activities and who can be involved – domestic violence organizations, local nonprofits, teachers, etc.
- Power Up, Speak Out!: Gathered the middle school principal, middle school counselor, lead educator, and local nonprofit AmeriCorps VISTA member for a meeting. Together, we honed in on the different privileges in everyday school-life between white and black students during the 1950-1960s. The committee decided to weave activities throughout the day, with a simulation that existed during classes. This required all teachers to be onboard.
Step 2: Have follow-up planning meetings. The key people will need to report back on the rest of the group. Make sure everyone is fully aware of what the plans are for the day, especially school administration. Have the principal relay information to the teachers and staff including the overall goal and schedule.
- Power Up, Speak Out!: The goals for the day were to engage students in activities and discussion revolving around civil rights; by the end of the day, students should understand the historical events that occurred as well as experienced a small amount of what people may have gone through during the Civil Rights Movement.
- Morning Assembly- The principal gathered all students to introduce the day, explained the goal, and explained how things would be different that day.
- Color Assignments- Students reported to their team room (home room) and were randomly assigned (by the principal) a color: blue or green. Blue, representing the Dallas Cowboys and the principal’s favorite football team, was the privileged color. Green was the color being discriminated against. Teachers explained the rest of the day would be a simulation, where blue students would be treated well and green students would have a more difficult time. Students were expected to follow normal school rules (like being on time to class, respecting teachers, other students, and the facilities, and completing school work).
- Team Reading- Teams (homeroom classes) broke into groups and community volunteers read the book, “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seus. This book discusses racism against “people” who are different, and the Sneetches will do anything to avoid being the same. The reading was followed with a discussion, where the volunteers asked students, “What is going on in this story? Were the Sneetches treating each other well? How did the story end?” After discussion, volunteers reiterated the holiday that was being celebrated and the goal of the day. Volunteers also reiterated what Team teachers (should have) said regarding the simulation.
- Simulation- After the reading, students were released to their first class. Signs were hung up around the schools (bathroom, water fountains, hallways) directing the different colored students to different amenities. The community volunteers patrolled the hallways (especially during passing periods) to make sure students were following these “rules”. There was a “jail” set up for anyone who disobeyed these rules. Teachers could also send students to the jail during class. In jail, a volunteer administered the Louisiana Literacy Test (http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/question/feb12/literacytest.pdf) given during the ‘60s. As the day proceeded, green students experienced further discrimination. Volunteers encouraged particular blue students to antagonize the green students.
- The Revolt- The hope was that particular students (both green and blue) would eventually get frustrated and decide to protest. We had poster supplies so students could make protest posters. They were asked to follow Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)’s nonviolent protest procedures (http://www.tolerance.org/activity/commitment-nonviolence-leadership-john-lewis); they had to read these procedures and agree. A large group of students started to protest, primarily during lunch and recess. There was a group that chose not to engage though.
- End of Day Assembly- Students gathered at the end of the day. Power Up staff debriefed students on the day. We asked questions like, “What was it like? Who was green and uncomfortable? Who was blue and uncomfortable?” A large goal of the debriefing was to get both student groups to understand there were difficulties among both. For example, one friend could be green and the other blue and they were not allowed to interact. Volunteers then presented a civil rights timeline of various events and groups that gained rights over time. Everything from women, to voting, to equal pay, to disabilities, to LGBT. Students were able to see that the Civil Rights Movement was not only during the 1960s but has been a long process and will continue to be.
Note: We stressed that the simulation is only a small window into what people actually went through and that we cannot fully understand the Civil Rights Movement from one short day of minimal oppression.
After the day was over, Power Up staff received comments from both students and parents that the discussions and activities done during MLK Jr. Day really stuck with the kids. If you have more questions about how to plan a day like this at your school, give us a call! It’s 406-446-2296, and ask to talk with Travis or Sam.