By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian
The legacy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind is more than just a history lesson at area schools.
Monongah Elementary principal Rob Moore said the ideals King advocated so strongly for are evident in the attitudes of the school’s students.
“We have a very diverse student population. They’re from all walks of life in terms of race, need and socioeconomic status,” Moore said. “The kids come to school every day and are not affected by one another’s ethnic background or where they go to church. Our students all look at each other like they’re just another kid.”
And Moore said that when the students pass each other in the hallway or sit side-by-side in class, they treat each other with mutual respect.
“Our kids probably don’t even know it, but they are how we all ought to be,” Moore said. “They look at the content of a person’s character.”
And, according to Moore, that type of behavior is encouraged as soon as the students walk into the building.
“One of my favorite things to say to the kids is that it doesn’t matter who you are, but how you are,” he said. “That’s always been a credo that we’ve included in our positive behavior support program.”
Moore also said that in January, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an entire month is dedicated to learning about King. From essay contests to projects for art class to weekly character education classes, students in all grade levels are exposed to his legacy.
“It’s a part of our multicultural education program,” Moore said. “Our students know and understand who Dr. King is.”
So while the historical facts and the role King played in the country’s social development are incorporated into the curriculum on a daily basis, he said the students are learning much more: to abide by the values he stood for.
“It’s important to teach kids how to show empathy and understand how others learn and feel to make them successful in life,” Katy Merendino, a fourth-grade teacher at Watson Elementary, said.
Merendino said teamwork and equality are two basic themes that are emphasized throughout the school year.
“I feel those two things really go along with what Martin Luther King did for our country,” she said.
At Watson, individual classrooms are part of an open floor plan and are not separated by walls. Merendino said this unique style lends to an enhanced sense of cooperation among students.
“We focus everything on teamwork and have a class meeting every Friday,” Merendino said. “We get together in a circle and everyone sits on the floor, including the teachers. It shows students that everybody is created equal and how to be kind.”
Katie Ridenour, another fourth-grade teacher at Watson, said they also make it a priority to encourage students to celebrate individuality and appreciate one another’s abilities.
“We stress that each of our students is skilled in something. One person may be a really good artist, another may be a really good writer and another may be really good at math,” Ridenour said. “We really press the kids to succeed in what they’re good at, but also realize they should appreciate those things about each other and not be jealous.”
Moore, Merendino and Ridenour agreed that passing on the importance of diversity and equality from generation to generation is the way to make King’s dream come true — and create a positive influence on society and the world.
“Our kids truly accept diversity, and their lives are enriched by it,” Moore said.
Email Kaylyn Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.