GALAX — Oakland Elementary’s “A Child’s Heart” project gave 13 five-year-olds a chance to share their dream for the world. The effort was part of the Kindergarten/Reading Specialist Sheila Hommema classroom activities in January on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
According to Hommema, the students were encouraged to write down their dream following studies on King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Parents purchased magazines which looked at the speech in depth and in a format which met State Standards of Learning (SOL).
“They absolutely blew me away with their essays,” Hommema said. “The pictures they drew are so amazing.”
She talked about one student who sought out the help of others to get his thoughts down on paper. The words were, “World. Will. Hug and kiss everybody.” The essay included a picture of six children side by side. One was purple and the others were drawn with no skin color wearing a lot of different colored clothing.
Another student’s dream was “no more people fighting.” The essay included a drawing with one figure dressed in black with his mouth open to say “oh no!” and another figure dressed in red with an angry frown. The figure in red had the bigger arms of the two.
Homemma said another student wrote, “I wish everyone in the world would have enough food.” The pictured included a drawing of the student beside a table loaded with food. Another student told Homemma her dream was that bullies could be stopped. This was the first time the Reading Specialist had received this response. The student told her she had seen bullying on her bus. Homemma asked her if she let someone know. The students answer was yes, but sometimes it didn’t help. She was encouraged to take her concerns to Principal Larry Williams for further action.
Student Briley McGhee felt the need to reach out to King in her essay and wrote, “I want to give MLK a hug.” Classmate Aleigha Kinder’s dream was “all people will be nice to each other.” Homemma said Addyson Delp wrote the same sentiment and she sat on the other side of the room.
While this was the first time such a prompt was used to involve students in learning, Oakland kindergarteners have a history of civic duty activities. Previously, one of Homemma’s classes was asked to decide on something they wanted changed at the school. They were tasked with creating their own protest posters and a silent march to Williams’ office. That particular year the students decided it was not fair kindergarten did not get to participate in swimming activities but fourth graders did. (Homemma explained her students reasoned they didn’t know as much about water as fourth graders so they needed to know more about swimming because they were more likely to jump in a pool.)
“I told them on the silent march to use their words and not their voices,” Homemma recalled as she stressed the importance of learning which can relate to the real world. “I don’t do stuff just in the classroom. I never have. Each morning we discuss what they have seen in the news. When they tell me about seeing adults behaving badly, I say what’s the rule and point to this picture of a big band-aide we have on the wall and they say don’t hurt anyone on the inside or the outside. They say these adults, they don’t know the rules.”
Homemma says she reminds students of the positive side, such as Policemen and the military which both keep us safe, no small feat in a time when the critical need to say something if you see something is needed to be taught again. She said she tries to teach these future citizens that if they see someone being ugly they should think what they should do in the context of what Dr. King would have done. A life skill where a complement, or comment making someone feel better could lessen anger and make them think.
“If we don’t start teaching them compassion and love at their age then they may very well lose it,” said Hommema. “We have become so dysfunctional from our smartphones. We may all not like the same things or agree but we have to work together to make things better.”
One ongoing project the class is considering is writing President Donald Trump, sharing their dream. Hommema said she said while she cannot guarantee they will be answered it’s important they write.
“I said, ‘Hey, we can do it.’ Give me the essays and I’ll type them up and send it,” Homemma said. “You can’t make a change unless you do something. Action moves the world.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.