Fifth Graders Teach MLK History Through Performance

Nicole Arca
Read on about how SC’s fifth grade class shared their knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights era through song, dance, and expression.

On January 13th, the fifth grade class shared their knowledge of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in honor of Martin Luther King Day on January 16th. However, instead of simply stating facts about the activist’s life and struggles, they told Dr. King’s story and the civil rights movement through a performance filled with song, dance, and words.

“We educate them through the script,” fifth grade teacher Tracy Fadin says, “and take them on this journey of the life of Dr. MLK and what he did in terms of the country for civil rights. We’re trying to teach them that Monday wasn’t just another day off. There was a struggle; there was a reason why.”

The script for the performance included songs, some of which were actually sung on the day MLK gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, such as “We Shall Overcome”; “Give Peace a Chance”; and Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.” Along with the performance, students created visual representations of Martin Luther King, which were then posted around the Lower Campus amphitheater where the assembly took place. Students also lined the perimeter of the amphitheater with protest signs, shouting words of the civil rights era: “equality”, “freedom”, “peace”, “love”, “equal rights”, and “justice”.

“We had students who played instruments, dancers, and soloists. It’s not just coming up and saying a line, but also incorporating talent,” Fadin explains. “We wanted to tap into everyone’s skillset.”

Before rehearsals started, the fifth grade teaching team showed the students the actual footage of Dr. King’s speech. “Some of the kids’ mouths dropped,” Fadin recalls. “For them to see it touched them emotionally.” Throughout the performance, students also spoke verbatim from Dr. King’s speech. For these students, the words “took on a new meaning,” according to Fadin. “They actually saw and heard him. They felt what he felt.”

This approach to learning about Dr. King is an alternative way of addressing historical events and people, Fadin says. “It takes you from sitting in a desk and reading a book, and brings it to life.”
Importantly, allowing the students to perform their lessons in this way allows them to be the teachers. “They’re the ones teaching their peers about what Dr. King did for our country,” says Fadin.  

The fifth grade teaching team is extremely proud of the students, who practiced diligently over a course of three weeks, with rehearsals lasting for nearly three hours. “As teachers, we sit back and we’re proud of what they learned from it. We really see talent that shines through each and every student, despite the inclimate weather the day of the assembly, making this performance that more memorable.”
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Sierra Canyon School is a private, independent, non-sectarian, co-educational, college preparatory school for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12 located in Chatsworth, California. The highly cosmopolitan campus community is reflective of the Greater Los Angeles area and the world at large. Students are empowered to realize their greatest creative, ethical, intellectual and physical promise through small class sizes, a diverse student-teacher culture and a family-like environment.