When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the nation’s capital in August 1963, his message of hope and racial equality sparked a movement that is still alive today.
King’s spirit was displayed last Friday in the hearts, minds and actions of the 295 students at Waller Road Elementary School in Puyallup.
All grade levels were united in a special Martin Luther King assembly entitled “The dream starts with us!” Students in kindergarten through sixth grades presented poetry, songs and art projects that embodied the message of King’s “I Have a Dream ” speech.
Classes picked different themes, such as Dreams, Responsibility, Justice, Respect, Diversity, Peace, Community, Liberty, Freedom and Hope, and they explored them in personal expressions.
Ngoma Howard’s sixth-grade class closed the program with a mock social justice march, and they led students, staff members and parents in a song of solidarity with lyrics to follow on a projected screen.
At the end, all attendees stood and sang and clapped along.
“This is a very special event,” said Gerald Denman, chief officer of equity and achievement for the Puyallup School District.
Denman was invited by Waller Road Principal Michelle Cruckshank.
“This program really symbolized what Dr. King was all about, and the students were very receptive to that,” Denman said. “I’m pleased to see the turnout of parents. This is a great way to end the day.”
Denman said he toured about seven different Martin Luther King programs across the district and considered Waller Road’s celebration something special.
Cruckshank welcomed parents at the beginning of the program.
“Three years ago, I had a privilege of coming to Waller Road,” Cruckshank said. “I had a dream and a vision that (this school) would be a community of learners and a welcome community. I hope you feel welcome every time you come to Waller Road.”
Victoria McKinney, a student in Howard’s sixth-grade class, followed with an original reading that described King’s upbringing and his place in American history. She delivered a message to the student body about how King had changed the world with his actions and what it would be like if he did not take a stand.
“(King) has inspired me to take a stand for what I want and what the world needs,” McKinney said.
What the world needs is freedom and equality for all, she added.
McKinney said Waller Road has done many Martin Luther King programs in the past, but this is the first in which students were heavily involved.
“This year, we have more interactions,” McKinney said. “There are more opportunities for students to show what they’ve learned. My favorite part is getting to know my classmates.”
Howard also was excited about the opportunity for more student involvement.
“I’m excited for the community embracing the message and the community living the message and sharing with others,” Howard said. “It’s exciting when kids come up with ways to celebrate and carry on the message that was started long before our time.”
Danielle Price, a first-year teacher, led her third- and fourth-grade combination class in a presentation about the importance of diversity.
“We focused on the great parts of being different, and what is special about yourself that makes you unique and different from everyone else,” Price said. “I’m excited that it’s all student-driven. They’re going to learn a lot more, and they’re going to remember (the message) a lot better.”
To close, a complete colored-paper chain was linked together, with each individual chain from each class inscribed with personal messages that touched on the different themes.
“The dream starts with us,” said David Rosdahl, the school counselor. “We finished our chain link. Our world is united, and it starts here at Waller Road Elementary School.”
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.