MLK Day Recognized in Somerset Hills Area Schools

Bernards, Bedminster and Somerset Hills school districts returned the Martin Luther King holiday to calendar after Sandy.

The prolonged absence from school that Superstorm Sandy caused in school districts in the Somerset Hills area had school officials scrambling afterward to find scheduled holidays to take off the school calendar — and the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was uniformly put back on the schedule.

But that doesn't mean that holiday, and King, will go unrecognized. The public school systems in Bernards Township, Bedminster and for the Somerset Hills regional school district are each planning events and educational presentations about the slain civil rights leader.

And which is located in the Martinsville section of Bernards but draws students from the region, will through The Pingry School Parents’ Association (PSPA) hold its first community-wide “Day of Service” for the entire Pingry community.

Community service activities at Pingry will include writing letters to the soldiers, creating origami for Cancer Support Community Central New Jersey in Bedminster, blanket making for hospitalized children and creating bookmarks with inspirational words by King, according to information from the private school.

"There will be a number of different activities that all age groups can participate in with their parents," said Shelley Hartz, community service director at Pingry. She said the blankets for the Basking Ridge-based Bryan's Dream Foundation. The foundation was started in the memory of Bryan Timothy Opremcak of Basking Ridge, and as part of its support for children with brain tumors gives the blankets to hospitalized children.

In the Somerset Hills school district, all students will be in school Monday after the holiday was put back on the calendar following Hurricane Sandy. Planned events for the Martin Luther King holiday next Monday include:

At the the different grade levels have planned the following, according to information from Schools Superintendent Peter Miller's office.

  • Kindergarten students will read stories about differences and hold discussions regarding embracing and appreciating differences, with a brief introduction about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • First grade students at Bedwell will read about King, and will take part in a writing exercise, "What would you do to make the world a better place?"
  • Second grade students will review videos and books and hold discussions about King. The grade level also does a rotation through each grade level classroom to learn about famous African-Americans for Black History month.
  • Third graders will watch a video, "Our Friend Martin," and read books about his life, followed by discussions and Readers Theatre skits.
  • The fourth grade will be reading books and watching videos about King, followed by discussion and written responses to his "I have a Dream" speech.

Related arts at Bedwell also will be incorporating the theme of Martin Luther King into instruction, according to the school's information.

Social studies teachers will be discussing King at the Bernardsville Middle School.
While Bernards High School will have exams that day, the school also will address information about King, and the holiday, through history classes during the day. Social studies teachers will find a way to incorporate the teachings of King into their lesson plans in some capacity, according to the school. "It will serve as a nice opportunity for students to acknowledge the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. to our society," according to information released by Miller's office.

Bedminster Township Public School Superintendent Carolyn Koos said that next Monday, the school will extend morning announcements to include historical background on King. "Following announcements, students will stay in homeroom and watch the "I Have a Dream" speech. Teachers will be incorporating the holiday into their daily lessons," she added on Tuesday.

In Kristin Fox, districtwide social studies supervisor, said each building will have a morning announcement about Martin Luther King, Jr. with lessons and activities will vary across the district.

The program will be extensive at the William Annin Middle School.

In fact, the rescheduling of the day will provide an opportunity for the middle school to hold programs and events that were traditional in years past, before the day was included on the school calendar as a holiday.

Fox said the eighth grade will have pull out activities all day, with a guest speaker and a viewing of a movie about civil rights activist Ernest Green.

Now that the district will hold school on the MLK holiday, the eighth grade will again hold a special assembly as in previous years, said William Annin Vice Principal Mary Ehid. Along with learning about Ernest Green, John Clark, a retired WAMS teacher, will be returning to talk to students with his experiences during the 1960s, she said.

Because before Sandy, the district was not scheduled to be in school on the MLK holiday, the middle school already had scheduled an assembly, Living Voices, which is sponsored by the school's parent-teacher organization, for the following day, Jan. 22, Ehid said. The assembly is for all of the school's students in grades 6 to 8, she said.

"It brings the civil rights movement to life," Ehid said. More about the assembly is online, she said.

Fox said that sixth-grade students will have an assembly organized by the PTO, with follow up lessons in their social studies classes, including a presentation by staff members on tolerance, racism and inequality.

Some of the activities will include a discussion and comparison of quotes by King and Martin Niemoller, a pastor who had opposed the Nazis, about silence in the face of evil, Fox said. The discussion includes analysis of comparing to situations at the middle school, as in standing up to bullies. 

Students will watch a video clip summarizing King's achievements and vision, and read aloud a play about the Montgomery bus boycott, Fox said.
At students in American History will connect their study of women at the end of the 19th century to the evolving role of women in American society, with a discussion of Coretta Scott King, King's widow.

Activities also will be held at the district's elementary schools. At the Liberty Corner Elementary School, Principal Kathy Pecoraro said each teacher has been forwarded a video clip of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream..." speech to be shown in every classroom on Monday.

"Our fifth graders are also researching Martin Luther King facts and eight of them will share those facts during morning announcements Monday morning," the Liberty Corner principal added.

Mount Prospect Elementary School Principal Judith Slutzky said teachers will discuss King in individual classes.


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