Students reflect, serve those in need in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

martin luther kind jr day of service at oak knollAs the famous civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everyone can be great, because everybody can serve.”

The Oak Knoll community took this creed to heart this past week as they celebrated Dr. King’s life through service to others and by learning about his legacy.

On Monday, January 18, 2021, Oak Knoll families at home were invited to participate in a brief reflection prayer honoring Dr. King’s life. Families then were invited to assemble bagged lunches (bread, sandwich meat/cheese, water bottles, snacks, and paper bags) for Bridges Outreach, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness through volunteer-driven outreach and individual case management focusing on health, housing and independence.

More than 120 bagged lunches were dropped off at school and then brought to Bridges on Tuesday, January 19, 2021.

“In a time when our senses are overloaded with acrimony and discord, Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that together we can make the world a better place,” said Jill Andersen, who assembled bagged lunches on Monday with daughters Lily Andersen ’23 and sister Kaitlin.

“Making lunches to feed those who may be going hungry helped our family feel that we had the ability to spread love and share our blessings. Oak Knoll’s commitment to service inspires our family to keep the world outside our home top of mind. As we are frequently shuttered and sheltered by COVID, it’s easy to lose sight of so many who need community now more than ever,” she said.

This marks the second year that the Upper School has celebrated Dr. King’s legacy through student action.

Last year, Michele Van Kalsbeck, Upper School Theology teacher, accompanied a small group of students to the VA Hospital in Lyons, NJ, where they played musical bingo with the veterans.

“Service is a core value in Oak Knoll’s mission and providing a service opportunity on MLK Day allows us to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in a special way while also living out our mission as a Holy Child School,” said Van Kalsbeck. “Martin Luther King Jr. gave our country so much, and participating in service on his birthday is a way of paying it forward.”

Oak Knoll students not only assembled lunches, but late last week during class time, Upper School students reflected upon excerpts of one of Dr. King’s letters he wrote from a Birmingham, AL, prison after he was arrested for peacefully protesting.

“Dr. King wrote this letter to address the injustice he and others recognized in the treatment of Black and African-American people,” said Oak Knoll’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Coordinator Jennifer Wilson.

Wilson asked students to reflect on Dr. King’s ideas about how to take action against injustice through four steps: “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

Students were asked to write a reflection to the question, “Why is it important to continue to honor the legacy of Dr. King?”

“Dr. King’s emphasis on peaceful protests as a way to stir tension and ‘become the catalyst’ for progressive change is inspirational, so his legacy should continue to be honored,” said OKS senior Leticia Sefia ’21.

“He was a great man whose philosophies can be applied to injustice all over the world. His influence is invaluable to the growth and education of others seeking to better themselves and society as a whole,” said Abigail Whittall ’22.

Oak Knoll’s Lower School Student Council members also led reflections honoring Dr. King’s life on Friday ahead of the holiday.

Each Lower School grade then held their own age-appropriate focus lesson about the work Dr. King left behind. Some of these lessons included a read-aloud, a writing activity, a Newsela or BrainPop activity.

“It’s important that we teach children about the life and lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday and all year long because these lessons help in the formation of each of our student’s character,” said Christine Spies, Lower School Division Head. “These lessons focus on courage, resiliency, equality, hope, love, and the importance of our character. The lessons of Dr. King directly relate to the Holy Child Goals and as students continue to develop their intellect and character, these important lessons are woven throughout the year.”

Oak Knoll students at both the Lower and Upper schools participate in several service opportunities throughout the academic year.

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oak knoll history teacher John petito