The Moorestown Friends School Early Childhood Program

On Thursday, January 17, Lower School students participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program — a longstanding MFS tradition. The program grants students in kindergarten through fourth grade an opportunity to honor King’s life through historical recitations and song, while preschool and prekindergarten students watch the event unfold.

Lower School Director Kelly Banik compares the program, held annually in the meeting house, to a mosaic. “Each grade has a little piece of the play,” Ms. Banik says. “It brings the themes of equality and information about Martin Luther King, Jr. all together for students to celebrate diversity and equal rights.”

Melissa McCourt, the Chester Reagan Chair for Religious and Quaker Studies, greeted students and teachers at the meeting house entrance and provided an opening welcome. This year’s program featured seven songs — from “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” to “Free at Last” — sung in unison by all Lower School students and conducted by Lower School Music Teacher Joanna Stamper. Between each song, segments of dialogue illustrated key points in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. The segment covering the 1955-56 bus boycott featured an additional layer of activity, as fourth graders marched around the center of the meeting house while carrying handmade protest signs.

Kindergarten Teacher and Lower School Diversity Coordinator Emily Bowditch finds that this event has ripple effects for students, especially when paired with in-class lessons about civil rights. “I think it’s a really important time to lay the foundation — to make sure students understand what respect is and what it means to have the rights we have today,” Ms. Bowditch says. “When students learn honestly and authentically about the importance of fairness and equality, then they’re able to gain more empathy and more care for each other.”

In the weeks leading up to the program, each grade learned about the historical figures or events present in their speaking portion. However, the themes of King’s work continue to resonate throughout the year. “It’s not just a month-long celebration or a day’s celebration,” Ms. Banik says. “Service and stewardship are an incredibly important part of any grade at MFS. They are built into the ways we conduct ourselves, inside and outside our classes, and into the lessons that teachers are working on every day.”