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Another glimpse from my kindergarten class at a Jewish day school:

This week, the Gan has been learning about the lives of Martin Luther King and several other key figures in the civil rights movement. We began the week by reading several biographies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We also read both a biography and an autobiography for children of Rosa Parks. During writing workshop on Wednesday, we used Rosa’s description of the day she refused to give up her seat on the bus to help us with our own small moment writing. Children noticed how adding dialogue and feelings improves our stories, and worked on using these tools in their own stories. We ended the day on Wednesday with a reenactment of this pivotal event.

On Thursday, we turned our attention to Ruby Bridges, a six year old girl who was the first black child to attend a newly integrated elementary school in New Orleans. We read a biography and selections from her autobiography. Children had thoughtful discussions about what they might have done if they were Ruby’s parents (who disagreed on whether she should attend the school or not) and how Ruby might have felt when she began her new school. Later that day, the Gan and their sixth grade buddies retold Ruby’s story. We looked at a photo of people crowded outside of her school holding up pro-segregation signs. Buddy groups were asked to imagine that they had the chance to welcome Ruby to her new school and make new signs to greet her.

Throughout the week we’ve been singing songs from the civil rights movement, including If you Miss me at the Back of the Bus, We Shall Not Be Moved and This Little Light of Mine.

 All of the leaders of the civil rights of the movement whom we studied relied on prayer and faith to carry them through challenging times. This same theme runs through the many of the Jewish holidays we study, and in particular the Passover narrative. To highlight this connection between our Jewish tradition and the work of Dr. King, we will conclude the week with a special Kabbalat Shabbat service with the first and second grades. In addition to our regular prayers, we’ll be singing civil rights songs, and reading a picture book about Martin Luther King, Jr and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The second grade will lead us in a ceremony created by Freedom’s Feast reinforcing the theme of the national holiday dedicated to Dr. King – service to others.

Monday’s holiday from school is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the lessons of the civil rights movement and how all of us can serve our communities. One excellent resource for ideas and resources is the website of  Freedom’s Feast. Freedom’s Feast “helps families to discover new ways to celebrate major American holidays so that we can pass on the stories, values and behaviors we care about to our next generation of American citizens and leaders.”

You might also like to watch this video about the themes of  MLK holiday with your child. The video highlights the theme of service and includes footage of an adult Ruby Bridges.

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