Students at Red Bank Charter School took to the streets on Monday, carrying signs while marching through the community to mark the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
The exercise was part of a series of events held Monday at the school to teach students about the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
Red Bank Charter School Principal Meredith Pennotti said the school has opted to remain open on MLK Day to allow students to engage in a day of celebration and reflection.
“With a school as diverse as ours, the legacy of Dr. King has tremendous significance to our students,” Pennotti said. “Celebrating the life of Dr. King as we did on Monday fits into our mission. It’s what sets us apart from other schools in the area.”
Red Bank Charter School is among the most diverse and racially and ethnically integrated schools in the state with a student body that is 43 percent white, 43 percent Hispanic and 12 percent African-American.
The school’s curriculum includes a service-learning component in which students have the opportunity to complete activities in the community.
“We fully embrace Dr. King’s believe that life's most persistent question is: what are you doing for others?” Pennotti said. “We constantly instill in our students that they must give back to the community.”
The day began with teachers in every classroom handing out bagels to students. The exercise was designed to create fellowship among students.
“We all need food, water and love,” Pennotti said.
Students also created a CNN-like news program in which they produced segments about the Dr. King, the Taliban, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the controversy over their own school.
A small group of Red Bank residents have incorrectly called the school segregated and are seeking to shut it down. In their news segment, the students sought to correct the misinformation being spread about their school.
“The students decided to take this issue on themselves,” Pennotti said. “It’s an issue that has clearly made an impact on them.”
Students in the middle school grades also went to see the new movie “Hidden Figures,” a true story that celebrates the overlooked contributions of three African-American women working at NASA who played a crucial role in putting Americans into space.
“The movie was a real learning experience for our students about this period in our history,” Pennotti said. “Having the opportunity to watch the movie and discuss it on Dr. King’s birthday was a gift.”
The day ended with a silent march through Red Bank with students carrying signs they made expressing their hope for the kind of future envisioned by Dr. King. One poignant message on a sign read: “Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?”
Maya Williams, an eighth grader at Red Bank Charter School, said the march had an impact on students from kindergarten to eighth grade.
“It teaches kids that even though you might draw attention to yourself, that’s okay if it’s for the right reasons,” Maya said. “We were marching for something that is still a real issue. It’s good to teach kids that it is an issue.”
Seventh grader Ruby Smollen said she has participated in the MLK Day march since her kindergarten days.
“It’s really important to know that everyone is equal no matter what their differences,” Ruby said. “The march really represents us being able to celebrate our differences. We are different in our own ways and we should respect each other for that.”