Students find true meaning of MLK Day - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Tukee Talk

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Students find true meaning of MLK Day

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Travis Roemhild is a reporter at the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Reach him at (480) 898-4903 or

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Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2012 8:00 am

Kyrene Monte Vista Elementary teacher Ruth McLennan said the goal for her class this year was to uncover the meaning behind Marting Luther King Jr. Day, and, in turn, why the students don't have school on Monday.

She engaged her classroom of fifth-graders in a project using "thinking maps," a way to draw out and think logically about the causes and effects of what King did for civil rights. The students worked in pairs, and in the afternoon on Friday they presented the results to other classrooms throughout the school.

"It's an amazing unit," McLennan said. "The way they are designed allow for students to show their thinking and determine causes and effects."

The students researched the time in the 1950s and '60s, before and after King's impact on civil rights, through a variety of means. That, including speaking to their parents and grandparents, some of whom were alive to see the changes that took place. With that information, they chose three major causes that prefaced King's rise to power and the subsequent changes in civil rights. One of those causes was the Jim Crow laws.

"The Jim Crow laws prevented black and whites from doing things together," student Tate Breyer, 11, said. "The civil rights movement happened so that everyone could be treated equal."

For the students, it was an eye-opening experience, McLennan said. She chose to do the projects through the "thinking maps" because the visual and logical reasoning aspect would better resonate with them then maybe writing an essay.

"It's a week-long project that really allows the students to dive into the subject matter," she said. "They had to research and come up with the three most important causes and the three most important effects. I wanted them to clearly understand why they had Monday off."

The students said what struck them the most about the material was that it happened, in the grand scheme of things, fairly recently.

"Before I did this study, I thought the (civil rights movement) was so long ago," Sarah Erramuzpe, 10, said. "But then I talked to my dad about it and found out he was 1 years old when it happened. It really wasn't that long ago."

King's actions made a lasting impact on civil rights and Monday is a day when we all should remember and be thankful for the changes that came because of his actions.

"African-Americans were treated so unfairly," Breyer said. "And now the whole entire nation is basically treated equal because of what he did."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

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