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‘I want to be like him’

Students honor Martin Luther King Jr. with messages of love, kindness

Wyoming — While sporting a paper crown in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Oriole Park Elementary School first-grader Isabella Dietrich shared her dream, inspired by the civil rights activist. 

“I want to be like him,” she said.

Isabella wrote a message about how she can be like King on a leaf that hangs from a “peace tree” she and her peers decorated. “I will change the world!” she wrote. 

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, first-grade teacher Sarah Buys-McKenney and other teachers challenged Oriole Park students to think about the values King embodied and how everyone can be part of continuing his legacy by sharing their own dreams.

Several classes in the diverse kindergarten- through fourth-grade school drew pictures and wrote their thoughts for the tree, which now adorns a wall in the school hallway.

“No matter the skin color, we are all important to everyone,” said first-grader Bella Hart, giving her thoughts on King’s message about equality. 

“I love helping kids,” added first-grader Joallen Adorno-Cartenga, about sharing King’s message of stewardship.

Buys-McKenney launched the project by introducing her students to King through a Sesame Street video in which Elmo and friends create a peace tree. They also read books and articles to learn about the civil rights leader. 

“We talked about how Dr. King’s work wasn’t done; it’s our job to keep doing that work too,” Buys-McKenney said. “It was a great way for them to think about it in terms of how they are going to act.” 

‘No matter the skin color, we are all important to everyone.’

– first-grader Bella Hart

She said the project was emotional for all. Students learned that King faced racism, hatred and people who did not believe as he did.

“We tried to be very honest in an age-appropriate way. We talked about how these things continue, and there are people who would still like to see Dr. King’s dreams not come true,” McKenney said. “(We thought about) What are we doing each day to make sure we are keeping our wishes and our dreams going?”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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