Elliot Crowe, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Haley Spurlin, and Rachel Kosters discuss civil rights during Read for Peace
By Stacy Walenter
During the weeks of Jan.8 and Jan. 15, 2017, Morrison Elementary students spent their li-brary time learning about racism, civil rights, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1983. In 1994, Congress also designat-ed the day as a national day of service to align with the vision of Dr. King, who said, “Life’s most persistent and ur-gent question is: what are you doing for oth-ers?”
The Corporation of National and Community Service (CNCS) is in charge of facilitating programs for the nation-al day of service. Ameri-Corps falls under the umbrella of CNCS.
AmeriCorps VISTA members serve all over the country, performing a wide range of duties, including, but not lim-ited to, tutoring stu-dents, disaster relief, conservation, and eco-nomic development. According to the CNCS’s website, “VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, was conceived by President John F. Kennedy as a domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps and was started by President Lyndon Johnson as part of the War on Poverty. It is the national service pro-gram that works to elim-inate poverty.”
Read for Peace is also supported by Montana Campus Connect (MTCC), which “provides AmeriCorps and VISTAs grants, technical assis-tance, and training to support and promote civic engagement activi-ties across the state. MTCC programs mobi-lize higher education’s resources to serve com-munities across Montana and the region.”
MTCC and Ameri-Corps VISTA member Haley Spurlin, who is currently volunteering at Troy High School, de-cided to launch Read for Peace at Morrison Ele-mentary. Troy Schools librarian Kayleen Ran-dall happily jumped on board.
Though Read for Peace is usually held on a single day, the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Spurlin’s and Randall’s programs spanned two weeks, al-lowing them to give an in-depth exploration of racial issues to all first through sixth graders at the school.
During the week of Jan. 8, students learned through a variety of books. During the fol-lowing week, students wrote poems to express what they learned.
Spurlin said all of the students have been ex-cited to learn about this era of American history and the discussions have been lively. With north-west Montana’s limited cultural variety, Randall believes Morrison Ele-mentary’s inaugural Read for Peace is im-portant for the children.
“This is something our kids don’t have a lot of understanding of,” Randall said. “I was real-ly pleased when Haley suggested this.”
“Kids are pretty shocked when they real-ize what slavery was. It’s important for them to understand what civil rights are and the fact that there were people who didn’t have those rights less than 100 years ago and people who still struggle for some of those rights on a day-to-day basis.”
“It feels really bad that the white people were mean to the black people,” fourth grader Kylie Cole said as she wrote her poem. “Honestly, I’m glad they changed it.”
Students crafted dia-mante poems, which start with a noun, fol-lowed by adjectives and verbs, ultimately leading to an antonym of the original noun. Some of their poems are featured in the box below.
Jerks and Friends
By Allyson Welch (4th grade)
judging hurting caring loving
By Kody Hamilton (5th grade)
fighting disagreeing living respecting
By Wyatt Schertel (5th grade)
yelling separating cheering dancing
By Tana Grant (5th grade)
depressing hurting enlightening fulfilling