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Schools mark first Martin Luther King service day


From packing plastic eggs for an upcoming Easter egg hunt to writing letters to veterans stationed overseas, creating recipe books and packing toiletries for a domestic violence agency, about 200 Quakertown Community School District students honored the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday by serving their fellow citizens.

Braving bitter cold, they took advantage of their day off to help various communities. Students and teacher chaperones fanned out through Upper Bucks, visiting Family Service Association of Bucks County, the Hope ReStored Thrift Store, Phoebe Richland Retirement Community, the Quakertown and Trumbaursville food pantries, LifePath, First Church of the Brethren, and Pennridge FISH to perform volunteer work in hopes of making a difference.

“I’m proud of our kids putting in the time to do really important work,” said teacher Rachel Girman, who spearheaded the year-long effort to organize the event. “Our goal is to make it bigger and better next year.”

Girman said she felt compelled to take the lead in organizing the district’s first MLK Day of Service after an ugly racial incident involving two white Strayer Junior High School students and black Cheltenham cheerleaders. While the district has taken significant steps to heal the wounds, Girman said providing students the opportunity to follow Dr. King’s philosophy of community service would carry the most impact.

“Students hear a lot about Dr. King, his teachings, his marches, his speeches,” said Girman.

“It’s a different thing to embody his intentions. It’s important for students to practice that on a regular basis.”

Ninth grader Angelina Becker said she was amazed at how many of her fellow students embraced the idea of honoring King on what would have been his 90th birthday.

“They could have been off relaxing today but came here instead,” she said. “It shows what we can do as a collective, as a group, and how amazing people in our school are.”

Before they set off on their various projects, students enjoyed breakfast in the high school cafeteria and heard from Dr. Gregory James Edward, a pastor from Allentown, who challenged them to look beyond Dr. King’s words to find ways to diffuse bigotry and hatred.

“Talk is cheap,” said Dr. Edwards, recently inducted into the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Bard of Preachers. “That’s why you are out here today. Don’t just quote (his) words and not be devoted to his work”

QCHS senior Sara Vahdatshoar agreed.

“Opportunities to have these types of conversation need to be more prevalent,” she said. “Days like this are fantastic and will help bring the community together.”

Superintendent Bill Harner said he will support efforts to expand the MLK Day of Service in the future.

“Today was an opportunity to make the world a better place,” he said.

“Our school district has done that. We need to make sure we push this forward.”

At the time of the incident with Cheltenham, Harner pledged he would not let the situation go unchallenged and began to develop plans to turn a stain on the district’s reputation into a teachable moment.

So far, he has been pleased with the results.

“It gave us the opportunity to stop, look in the mirror, and take a positive step forward,” said the superintendent. “It was the catalyst to bring everyone in the community together.”

In the months leading up to MLK Day, the district hired the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to bring its systemwide diversity and inclusion initiative to the district. The foundation continues to work with district leadership and community members to build individual and group intercultural competency, said Harner.

The district has also launched a Diversity and Inclusion Committee that is analyzing how its mission and vision statements, changing demographics and cultural equity can be included in the strategic plan, he said.