Since its inception, Shaker Road School has fostered a community that supports learning, acceptance, and tolerance. Shaker Road School’s first motto as a child care center—“Loving, Learning, Caring”—continues to guide the work we do with all families. Our mission, in part, aims to foster “respect for others” and “prepare children to positively contribute to a rapidly changing world.” We work hard to make this happen. Teachers continue to appropriately diversify the curriculum, and students in all grades study monthly citizenship themes in small classrooms and advisory programs. These experiences provide numerous opportunities to learn about a world vastly different than Concord, New Hampshire.
Still, we should devote more time to study important and too often tragic lessons from American history that continue to plague society. In a time fraught with political polarization, struggles with mental illness, and increased animosity toward minority and marginalized groups, children need space to learn and reflect on their places in the world and actions they might take to make a difference. On January 20, 2020, Shaker Road School devoted an entire school day to the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists. Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to their legacy is to continue educating children, and ourselves, on historic and current issues affecting our communities, nation, and the world.
As Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham jail in April 1963, “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Shaker Road School’s Civil Rights Workshop Day created a time and space for students to learn about historic and current experiences of those who struggle to achieve equality. Students experienced crucial lessons in tolerance, kindness, and action as they prepare for their roles in a larger world. The day began with our monthly Shaker Meeting. Sixth and eighth grade advisories recapped December’s theme Conflict, Tolerance, and Peace. Students learned about key leaders of several social movements before an overview of the day, including an introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. After Shaker Meeting, students gathered in age-appropriate groups. Kindergarten through ninth grade students studied topics including identity, kindness, conflict resolution, difference and commonality, advocacy (upstanders vs. bystanders), and agency.
Students also studied music related to the era and created art projects with key words and phrases they learned during the day. Ninth graders gathered “exit tickets” from the workshop to create a student pledge:
“As a part of the SRS community, I pledge to advocate for not only myself but the people around me.
I will accept everyone and recognize that people are individuals with their own ideas and personalities. Even though we may look different, we are all human and have our own important views that make up our world. Since we are all diverse and unique, the world isn’t a dull and boring place. Instead, it is full of ideas, and we can cause change.
I will speak up when I see something wrong, and I will stand up for others and myself. I will use my voice to communicate my ideas and advocate for change. I will be understanding and use empathy towards others. In a group, I will share my ideas, but also listen to others and be sure to include them and their ideas even if I don’t agree with them. I will be tolerant and accepting of others, setting aside our differences.
I will be kind to everyone, and I know that our looks, our personalities, and everything about us make up our individual identities. Even though we may be part of different groups, I will still be accepting and considerate of others. Whether you are an athlete, artist, or bookworm, I pledge that I will show acceptance toward everyone. By doing so, I will help the community grow and make it a better a place.”
As with our study of monthly citizenship themes, we encourage families to discuss these topics with their children to continue the dialogue. We respect differences of opinions and value respectful disagreements as opportunities for deeper understanding. January 20, 2020 was not just another school day at SRS. In the middle of a busy school year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day gave us an opportunity for even deeper learning and reflection. At the end of the day, one student commented that she was “grateful for the day” because she learned so much about civil rights and Dr. King. “Otherwise,” she said, “I would just be sitting at home watching television.”