Waco students learn about MLK from Baylor student teachers

With the celebration of Civil Rights Activist, Martin Luther King Jr., Baylor's student teachers took time to educate Waco elementary, middle and high school students about the movement. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

The third Monday of each year marks the celebration of Civil Rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr. As the nation remembers his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, Waco students are learning about him and this period of history possibly for the first time from Baylor’s student teachers.

Each year, the Baylor School of Education places undergraduate students in local elementary, middle and high schools as part of a student teaching program. This week, many student teachers working in local schools will be implementing lessons devoted to MLK in an effort to teach their students about the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the brave men and women behind it.

Austin senior Eliana Rodriguez, an elementary education student, has been student teaching in Waco classrooms for four semesters. This year, she’s teaching in a first grade classroom at Spring Valley Elementary School and will teach her students this week about MLK through readings and class discussion. The overarching question for the week: what does it mean to be brave?

“This week we have been reading about him and the fact that he gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and that he fought for equality,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve gone over key words like what equality is, what segregation was, and we’ve just kind of talked about how they feel towards that.”

Rodriguez plans to extend her lessons into next week, discussing other Civil Rights activists like Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges. The students will conclude the week by writing letters to their favorite activist and discussing why their bravery was important.

In a classroom of six and seven-year-olds, however, segregation and inequality can be tough subjects to address, Rodriguez said. According to Rodriguez, these issues are further complicated by the fact that some of these children have already experienced inequality first hand.

Rodriguez is prepared for the opportunity to teach these students about a difficult time in our nation’s history, and she hopes that they can learn a little more about themselves in the process.

“It’s nice knowing that I’m there to encourage them and to tell them ‘Do what you think is right. Always do what you think is right. Always push for what you believe in’,” Rodriguez said. “I want them to see that they can make a difference.”

Mansfield senior, Maddie Cunningham, is also an elementary education major and student teacher, is excited for her kindergarten class to learn about important figures of the Civil Rights Movement next week. She plans to do a read aloud story about Ruby Bridges, an American Civil Rights activist, and have her students do a craft where they’ll explore the timeline of her experiences.

“It’s really simple, so they’ll understand it,” Cunningham said. “They’ll actually be able to take away from the activity”

Cunningham is aware that her students are younger and may not be ready to confront issues like segregation and inequality. According to Cunningham, it is important to remember that none of us were capable of understanding these complex issues when we were their age. Her goal is to help them understand what they can about the era, and that starts with the names and faces of the movement.

She hopes that each child remembers the important figures they have learned about and recognizes their own ability to make a difference. She wants them to know that, every one of these people were once in kindergarten. They were once little tiny learners, and they themselves have a chance later on to do something important.

According to Baylor’s school of education’s website, “Baylor School of Education prepares educators for leadership in a changing world, offering degrees at every level, including undergraduate teacher preparation leading to certification, professional master’s and doctoral programs for K-12 and higher education leaders and research-intensive PhD programs.”