BV University, middle schoolers join forces on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Students at both Buena Vista University and the Storm Lake Middle School are working together to preserve and enhance the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King through a new leadership and mentoring program, and advisors of both sets of students say the project has been a positive one for everyone involved.
Members of the "Dream the Dream: Servant Leadership and the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." class at Buena Vista are taking the name of their class to heart, as they have teamed up with the Tornado Learning Club (TLC) at the Storm Lake Middle School to participate in the Dream the Dream project, a mentoring project designed to continue breaking down social and economic barriers in Storm Lake and to foster service-oriented relationships between BVU students and local children.
The cooperation between the BVU and TLC students is a major part of the "Dream the Dream" class this year, which is in its third year of being offered at the college. Partially funded through a grant from the National Corporation for National and Community Services, the interim course hopes to provide the college students enrolled in the course with a greater understanding of who King was and how his legacy of community involvement, nonviolence and greater understanding of civil rights is still alive today.
Students in the program traveled to Atlanta the past two years, and became immersed in the region where King did a great deal of his work. Students attended Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, where King became pastor in 1960 and delivered numerous sermons at throughout the 1960's, and worked in homeless shelters and became involved in the neighborhood where King resided over 35 years ago.
Members of the class did not make the trip to Georgia this year, as Colette Soults, one of four BVU faculty members leading the program, said instructors wanted to focus more on enhancing King's legacy and communicating his ideas to those here in the Storm Lake community through active involvement with the TLC students.
"We decided that we had just as much diversity here as in Atlanta, but it just didn't look the same," Soults said. "We thought we should concentrate our efforts here, because we had just as much work to do here, and we could learn just as much here as elsewhere. We wanted to put his legacy to work in Storm Lake with the resources we have here in town.
"His legacy comes alive with this partnership with the middle school because the BV students are actually working with students that they wouldn't have before," Soults continued. "Most come from small towns that don't have much diversity, and this program has helped them come in touch with the diversity that is all around us here in Storm Lake. Together as a group they are learning the value of what Dr. King taught and how that message should be carried out right here in town with the middle school students."
TLC Director Donna Queen, who leads the middle school students in the different activities, said the cooperation between the BVU and TLC pupils has been nothing but a positive for everyone involved.
"The whole thing really been fantastic for both sides," Queen said. "The kids have bonded with the college students and I think the college students have bonded with the kids as well. It's been a great thing to watch and be a part of."
The project has given the TLC students a rare opportunity to work intimately with college students on a host of activities, which includes a play honoring the life and work of King, which will be performed today at several local elementary schools and the middle school.
Students said working with the collegians on the play has helped teach them the value of diversity and being able to look beyond artificial barriers such as race, age and economic conditions, concepts which played a central role in King's work in the Civil Rights Movement over three decades ago.
"The play has been fun because we've been able to think up things to make it more exciting and more fun to be a part of," TLC student Rae Williams said. "It's also been fun working with the college kids because they're nice and helpful and you can learn a lot from them."
"It shows that we're all equal in every single thing," TLC student Juan Flores said. "We know you can make a difference no matter what color you are."
"It's been a lot of fun," TLC student Evelyn Castro said. "We've been able to learn a lot, and you learn how to treat people the same."
The play will not only reach local elementary students, but will be broadcast across the state, as the Iowa Public Television show ZOOM! will tape the show today and then air the program on March 8 and 11.
ZOOM! producers and videographers were at the middle school yesterday and today taping the students practicing and performing the play, and Soults said it seemed like a great way to distribute the message of King and how BVU and SLMS have come together to put King's message into action.
"It wasn't our intention to be publicly broadcasted, but they came to us and asked us if they could film this, and we thought it was a great idea, especially if we can help other communities come up with a similar model," Soults said. "This model that we have used has worked well over the past three years and has been well-received, and if we could help other school systems adopt similar plans, that would be great.
"I can easily see this model being used in high schools across Iowa," Soults continued, "because it is a way to not only learn about King's legacy, but it is a way to practice that legacy and build relationships between students and between people throughout the community."
Soults said the leadership skills all of the students are learning are precisely what the instructors envisioned when they began the course, and the teachers hope to continue the class and spread King's message of community involvement and servanthood well into the future.
"Our goal is to have BV students be the teachers and the leaders in the community," Soults said. "We as instructors just take a step back from everything and let the students drive the program. Our intention is to inspire them to become servant leaders, because that's what King wanted. He wanted to create servant leaders in communities, and that's what this program is trying to do. We want to have the college students teach the middle school students how to be servant leaders, and then we can start a cycle that will hopefully last for a long time to come."