Story by Michelle Higgins, Social Studies teacher at Walla Walla High School, photos by Matt Banderas
Volunteers, students and teachers work together to bring Civil Rights’ Education into classrooms. It seems like a large task in the beginning, but when people work ahead of time, the finished product is successful. This program provides college student volunteers with the opportunity to work inside classrooms and present new ideas to younger students. It also provides children and youths with the opportunity to work with college students who are pursuing their post-high school education and serve as mentors and role models.
In my high school classroom, students work together to share their thoughts and ideas after reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In the beginning, they hesitate to read passages and share their ideas with others because they do not consider themselves to be great scholars or experts. However, after a few minutes, they dive deeper into each passage and begin to hear the voice King uses to describe inequality, segregation and hatred towards African-Americans. They wrestle with the challenging text—there are many words that are not a part of their daily or academic vocabulary. However, this does not prevent them from participating and developing a better understanding of King’s purpose and point of view.
Many students can relate to feeling like an “outsider” at some point in their lives. Dr. King addresses people in his “Letter” who give him this label, also. Teenagers hear this statement and often it catches their attention. How can a man like Dr. King who represents such a large part of the Civil Rights’ Movement in their minds be an “outsider?” They are curious, they read further into the text and begin to ask “why?”
Teach the Movement is expanding to other parts of Washington State now. We are excited to welcome Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington and Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington on board. Both universities have programs in place already that make it easier for them to organize classroom visits with college student volunteers. Does it take some work and effort to make this happen? Yes, it does. Can it be done by nearly any college or university? Absolutely! Is it worth stepping outside of our comfort zones as educators to invite a group of college students into our classrooms to share lessons with our students? Yes, yes, yes!!!