A day for MLK

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Monday, January 21, 2008
— When music teacher Valerie Troxel taught in Beloit, students had the day off for Martin Luther King Day.

But Troxel worked part of that day. She took her Merrill Elementary School choir to a community celebration of the civil rights leader’s life.

“We always had a lot of fun, so it ended up being a big deal for my kids,” Troxel said.

Then Troxel started teaching in the Janesville School District, which does not give students the day off.

Janesville school officials long have said that even though they don’t give kids the day off, they mark the day with activities that recall the civil rights leader’s legacy.

Troxel adapted quickly when she began teaching at Kennedy Elementary. She had been expected to provide activities for Black History Month at Merrill School, so she used some of those ideas on Martin Luther King Day.

Troxel starts her lesson by writing on the board: MLK Jr.

Who knows what these letters mean? she asks.

Kids usually know.

Troxel then teaches her students songs, including “Back of the Bus” and a rap titled “Martin Luther King.”

When Kennedy Principal Niel Bender heard the songs, he asked Troxel to have her kids sing them for the whole school.

Social worker Ann Forbeck also used to work in Beloit schools. Now she’s at Janesville’s Edison Middle School, where they’re honoring King with a No Name-Calling Week.

Which way is best? Day off or day of learning?

“I can see both sides of it. I think it’s really important and should be a national holiday,” Forbeck said. “At the same time, I understand that we should be teaching our kids about Martin Luther King, and Martin Luther King Day is a good time to do that.”

Troxel said she’s not sure if one way is better than the other. Kids will remember why they got the day off, she believes, but kids also learn a lot about King in school.

Wanda Sloan, the diversity specialist at Blackhawk Technical College, said Beloit provides several community events that students could attend on their day off.

“We want the youth to join in those community events, but you know you can’t get kids to come to stuff like that,” Sloan said.

“I think it’s not only the kids that don’t honor it,” just as people don’t pay attention to most other national holidays, Sloan added.

Janesville doesn’t have its own celebration this year, although groups have organized them in the past. UAW Local 95, schools and others do organize an event each year at Blackhawk Technical College, where people from around the county join in honoring King.

Sloan said maybe there’s a different way: Make it a day on.

“And that means all our adults and young people would be doing something that day that’s going to be furthering brotherhood among all people,” she said.

Sloan is not the first person to think of the idea. There’s a Web site all about making the day a day of service. It’s www.mlkday.gov.


Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision that Americans of every kind could live in harmony remains at the top of the nation’s agenda nearly 40 years after his assassination. The Janesville Gazette is examining local aspects of that vision as it marks Martin Luther King Day 2008.

Today—Lots of schools and businesses take a day off to mark Martin Luther King Day, but not the Janesville School District. Reporter Frank Schultz tells what the local district does instead.

Tuesday—Rock County has done so well in addressing the imbalance of minorities in juvenile detention that it’s earned a grant to expand a Beloit-based program to Janesville. Reporter Ann Marie Ames talks to two Beloit boys about how their lives have changed.

Wednesday—Eric Beck remembers when his family was one of three black families in Janesville. Reporter Stacy Vogel tells the story of Eric and his daughter, Amy, and asks them about Janesville’s growing diversity.

Thursday—Which Wisconsin school district with the highest concentration of native Spanish speakers? Delavan-Darien. Reporter Kayla Bunge asks how the district has adapted.

Friday—Walworth County is becoming more diverse, but does local government reflect that trend? Reporter Mike Heine takes a look.


Here’s a selection of Martin Luther King Day activities in the Janesville public schools. Many schools planned to have students read, write, watch videos and sing about King.

-- Parker High School—Students in the Human Relations Club used an old video of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, replacing the difficult-to-hear audio with their own voices. The video was shown in class.

The club also composed a pledge that was put on a banner in the hallway and later will be reproduced for classrooms: “Simple Rules for Tolerance and Acceptance: When children are young, they do not see differences; they just see people. At Parker High School, we pledge to interact with our peers in the same simplistic way. BE NICE, PLAY FAIR, SPEAK UP, ALWAYS REMEMBER.”

“Hopefully, it’ll catch on,” said club adviser Kate Bennett.

-- Edison Middle School—It’s No Name-Calling Week at Edison. Name calling can be found at all ages, said social worker Ann Forbeck, one of the school’s Human Relations Club advisers.

Names Forbeck has heard of kids using the “N” word, ridiculing others about their weight and saying “mean girl stuff,” including the “S” word.

“I just think that No Name-Calling Week is a really good fit, sort of a middle-school version of Dr. King’s dream,” Forbeck said.

Activities include a poetry and rap contest, with winners announced today. Students will watch a video about No Name-Calling Week, a national effort. They’ll also sign a banner pledging not to call names.

On Wednesday, they’ll write names they have been called and throw those into a trash can. Participants will receive “No dissing” stickers.

-- Lincoln School—Kindergartners will do coloring sheets, discuss Martin Luther King and make a “dream” bookmark.

-- Kennedy School—Articles about King were printed in a parent newsletter and a staff bulletin.

-- Van Buren—Second- and third-graders listen to the “I Have a Dream” speech and write about their own dreams. Grades 4 and 5 read the story “Dear Mrs. Parks” and discuss civil rights.

-- Franklin Middle—Human Relations Club members (and other students from around Janesville) attended the Martin Luther King dinner at Beloit Memorial High School on Jan. 9. Plans are being made for a student council field trip to see the movie “The Great Debaters.”

-- Marshall Middle—Living Voices, a theater troupe, performed for the eighth grade about the civil rights movement.

Last updated: 1:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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