HANCOCK COUNTY — Many students across the county were out of school Monday, but they were asked to spend the day serving in honor of the man the day commemorates.

Monday marked the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, a federal holiday that marks the country’s only national day of service, during which people are asked to spend the day doing good for others.

Three of the county’s four school district’s were off Monday, but lessons didn’t cease.

Elementary school teachers aimed to teach youngsters about being kind to one another, assigning them with homework to do good deeds over the long weekend. At high schools, class focused on King’s pursuit for equal rights, teaching the students all about the man for which the day is named.

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Remembering King

The words echoed around them, not new but as loud and important as ever.

“And so, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream …”

Listening closely, they tapped away at their keyboards, watched monitors and turned dials, making sure each of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words rang out through the halls of Greenfield-Central High School as clearly as the day he made that famous speech.

Each year, the students in Jonathan Hudson’s radio productions classes broadcast King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the school’s radio station, WRGF 89.7.

Monday, in keeping with tradition, students in Hudson’s class read a script over the air that detailed King’s life, education and service to his country. They repeated it every hour on the hour until classes ended for the day.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…”

It’s an important message to repeat, Hudson said, one he knows his students have heard in their classes growing up but one he hopes they will better understand as they approach adulthood. King’s work was to better the lives of people of color and further justice for everyone, and he did it in such a dignified and creative way, Hudson said.

The students running the radio program learn about King’s contributions to the civil rights movement in their classes in the days and weeks that surround Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But hearing King’s speech each year played over the school’s radios serves as a reminder of the great things one person can do.

Nick Johnson, a senior at Greenfield-Central, said King is role model for all people. The injustices he battled and the poise with which he battled them is an example everyone should follow, even in modern times, he said.

“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Realizing dreams

Just outside the classroom door, the bulletin board was full of student statements paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Pam Swinford, a second-grade teacher at Brandywine Elementary School, asked each of her students to write a sentence depicting their own hopes for the future. She then posted the sentences on the bulletin board for all to enjoy.

One student wrote she hopes to become a doctor to help people feel better and to have faith in people. Another student wrote he dreams of becoming a police officer.

Swinford said she encouraged the students to think about the world around them and hope they could make it better.

“I’m trying to get them to understand and get a plan for community service,” Swinford said.

The one-sentence posts were part of a larger civics lesson to teach the youngsters about the importance of King’s speech and to show them one person can make a difference.

The students also drafted personal mission statements detailing how they plan to make their dreams come true.

Swinford tasked her students with performing an act of kindness outside of the classroom as well, giving student $5 of her own money to help fund their projects.

Second-grader Cody Lowe used his money to buy ingredients so he could make sugar cookie kits, which he gave to the Hancock County Food Pantry.

“It felt good to help other people who didn’t have a home or have much,” Cody said. “It makes me feel good.”

Passing it forward

Scribbled on the board in Stacy Webber’s classroom Friday afternoon was a simple question for her second-graders: “What can one little person do?”

The answer: plenty.

Over the weekend, Mt. Comfort Elementary School students were challenged do a good deed for someone else — something unexpected.

For the third year, the school is participating in a Pass it Forward campaign, through which staff and students are sent home with pink cards asking them to complete an act of kindness for someone else.

Once they’ve done something nice for a friend, neighbor or stranger, they leave behind a card asking the recipient to keep the good going.

On Friday, as teachers in the school passed out cards, they asked their students to brainstorm some good deeds they could do over the long weekend.

The ideas rolled in: Give a homeless person money; push in a classmate’s chair; help Mom and Dad clean the house; bake firefighters cookies.

In all, some 600 students and teachers headed out for the weekend armed with the pink Pass it Forward cards.

In Brooke Chapman’s first-grade classroom, students read a story about being kind; they watched a video of people in a city “passing it forward” — inspiration for the youngsters.

Principal Heather Whitaker asked the students if they are too young to help someone else.

In unison, they answered no.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are or how big you are, you can always do something kind,” Whitaker said. “That’s the exciting part.”

Did you know?

Legislation was first signed in 1983 to create a federal holiday marking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and the first holiday was celebrated about three years later in 1986. In 1994, Congress designated the third Monday in January the Martin Luther King Day of Service, the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. The Martin Luther King Day of Service is intended to give people time off from work or school to address social problems or empower individuals by committing acts of kindness.

Source: Corporation for National and Community Service