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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Historical Society Provides Life Lessons Through Fun MLK Day Activities

Historical Society Provides Life Lessons 
Through Fun MLK Day Activities
(Appeared in Westport News 1/19)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – While it was a vacation day from school, Hilary Gibson wanted to be sure there was still some learning going on, though in a fun and interactive way.

Gibson is the Director of Education at the Westport Historical Society at 25 Avery Place and was hosting a “Take A Stand” program on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday Jan. 17. The fee-based class, held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., was attended by a handful of students ages 5 to 9, who learned important lessons about equality and race through engaging activities.

“We wanted to create a meaningful program about why this day is significant and how King stood up for his ideals,” said Sue Gold, the Society’s Executive Director. “This helps children take their own stand while they have fun and learn at the same time.”

Since the Society began offering programs on MLK Day back in 2004, it has tried to teach a different lesson each time, said Gold. “One year, we invited illustrator Tracy Sugarman, who was very involved in the Civil Rights struggle and met Dr. King. He brought images and stories about that time period and gave kids a very real look at those events.”

Gold said the Society does a similar program on Election Day, centered around what it means to vote and make your voice heard.

Gibson designs and implements a wide range of educational programs for the Society as well as works with area nursery schools and the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. She said, “My whole philosophy is that an educational theme can be woven through every activity that we do. Even with something as simple as decorating cookies, there’s a lesson to be learned.”

She referred to the snack time the children enjoyed and how they used different sprinkles and icing to make their cookies unique, and how they learned that no one cookie is more special than another.

To bring attention to bullying, Gibson read the story “Hooway For Wodney Wat”, discussing how it related to race struggles and the treatment of certain peoples. It provided an easy way for kids to understand the issues.

Demonstrating the concept of segregation, Gibson divided the room by children wearing clothing with stripes and those wearing dark or solid colors, giving only one group certain privileges. Then she asked them for their feedback.

“I felt it was unfair how we were separated and treated,” said Blair Gowrie, 9, who clearly understood the message.

To show that issues can be solved through words and communication, the children made picket signs, each with its own message that was important to the child, e.g. no bullying, be kind. The children also designed their own Dream Pillow, which contained a slip of paper listing a dream. The latter had direct correlation to King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and, in Gibson’s words, taught that “you should have dreams and goals but also that these should be flexible to change over time.”

Assisting Gibson with coordinating this activity day were four freshman volunteers from Staples High School – Amelia Brackett, 14, Charlotte Piekara, 14, Kristin Dionne, 15, and Olivia Kalb, 14. All are members of National Charity League (NCL), a mother-daughter community outreach program. NCL provides a list of service opportunities from which the teens can choose.

“We chose this program here at the Historical Society because of the tie-in with Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” said Brackett. “Holiday programs are usually more interesting because we get to see how children interpret issues.”

The children participating were clearly enjoying themselves but gaining valuable lessons at the same time, as Casey Corso, 7, summed up. “This is really fun and we’re learning a lot about Martin Luther King. It doesn’t matter if you have different colored skin or what you look like on the outside. It’s only important what’s on the inside.”

The Westport Historical Society will offer similar vacation programs in February and April, and during the summer. For more information, visit or call 203-222-1424.

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