January 17 may have been the official holiday marking the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., but at Briarcliff High School the celebration has expanded to a full week.
Members of the Student Coalition for Human Dignity used chalk to write inspiring quotes and messages on the sidewalk in front of the school. Quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. were read aloud on the school public address system each day during period eight. And there was also a “gallery walk” facilitated by students from the club.
“The goal is for every single student in the high school, freshman to senior, to participate in the “gallery walk” so all students participated during one of their social studies classes,” said club advisor and French and Spanish teacher Samantha Boyer. “Another goal is for the students to have a discussion in history class afterwards.”
The gallery featured posters of five activists: Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela. The posters included photos, as well as facts about the activists’ background and work.
While observing the posters, students also filled out a form describing something new they had learned about each activist, as well as sharing their opinion about what they thought of when reading about that activist.
“We couldn’t do the assembly that we would normally have this time of the year, so the students in the club came up with the idea of posters,” said senior Rosie Swidler, who is co-president of the club, along with senior Kyla Miller. “I hope they are inspired by the activists,” she added.
“I think this is extraordinarily moving and inspirational for students and staff,” Superintendent Dr. James Kaishian said. “The posters represent people who have given of themselves to better their communities, their countries and the world. They have left a legacy for others to follow.”
History teacher Sharon Comblo brought her AP U.S. Government and Politics class to participate in the “gallery walk.”
“I really liked reading about all the activists,” said Immanuel, a senior in Ms. Comblo’s class. “The poster that resonated with me the most was the one featuring Gandhi because my family is from India. He means a lot to the nation, so it’s more personal.”
Afterwards, the students returned to their classroom and held a discussion about their impressions. Ms. Comblo tied the “gallery walk” to the students’ current unit on civil disobedience and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
The students discussed traits that the five activists shared, such as how all overcame insurmountable odds to get their messages across because they originally were not in a position of power.
The posters will be up for a few more weeks, or until the space is needed, as it may be used by other clubs who wish to create similar inspirational projects.
Plans are in the works for several other clubs, such as the Asian-American Club and the Gay-Straight Alliance, to create ways of commemorating other activists and causes.
“Our specific focus was human rights,” Ms. Boyer said, “but there are many causes that deserve to be featured at the school. “I hope the students enjoyed actively participating in the walk and discussing what they learned later in the classrooms.”