For kids at Lenape Elementary School, the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was cause to think deeply about injustice, bullying and race relations. During an assembly at the school’s gym last Friday, kids delivered presentations about King, Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. But they also heard from County Executive Michael Hein, who spoke to them about how damaging bullying can be.
“The actions you do that are kind to people in your class, and in your house, and everyone you meet can make a huge difference,” Hein said.
New Paltz has had a strong anti-bullying program for a few years now. Kids at Lenape also have the opportunity to speak to “peer mediators,” who are older kids that listen confidentially and help resolve disputes between kids. If the matter is really serious or dangerous, the principal and teachers are notified, however.
Hein encouraged the kids to think about how their actions impact each other and “create an environment where everybody feels respected.” He also asked them to be mindful of the future.
“Look around the room. Look and see what I see — the future of our county and the future of our country. Each one of you is remarkable, and I can’t wait to see what you become, what you do and how you make our community a better place,” the county executive said.
During the assembly, students gave a performance of Shane Derolf’s poem “The Crayon Box that Talked.” For those unfamiliar with the story, at first those crayons squabble and hate based on their colors — until the narrator starts to draw with them. It isn’t until they see the narrator’s picture that the crayons realize how they all have value.
A group of third-graders led a chorus of “We Shall Overcome,” which was taken up by the rest of the children and adults at the assembly.
Each year in Albany, there’s a celebration of Dr. King. Part of that is the Empire State Dr. King Essay and Fine Arts Display. Fifth-grade teachers Ann Sheldon and Daniel Monheit were proud that their students’ submission — titled “The Universe is on the Side of Justice” — earned a place of honor in the state capital.
Students illustrated the book with paper collages and they picked one letter of the alphabet to commemorate aspects of King’s principals of non-violence and the history of the Civil Rights movement.
“It was a real collaboration of art, library and the classroom,” Sheldon said.
When asked how kids reacted to learning about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s — and the injustices that existed then — Monheit said his kids felt a lot of empathy for that struggle.
“They already have a natural justice inside of them,” the teacher said. “They want things to be fair.”
Fifth-graders were also able to take a field trip to Albany to see their work on display. A reproduction of “The Universe is on the Side of Justice” is on display at the school as well.
For more information about what’s going on at Lenape Elementary School, head to https://www.newpaltz.k12.ny.us/ and search for Lenape under the “Our Schools” tab.