As people remembered Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) and what he stood for on Monday (Jan. 16), Coquihalla Elementary School’s first grade students decided to learn about MLK by holding their own “peaceful protest.”
At 1 p.m., in honour of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students from Dustin Neufeld’s Grade 1 class marched peacefully throughout the school in a mock protest. Waving their signs (which were made by Neufeld), the first graders knocked on doors and windows to try and encourage students from other classrooms and grades to join their “mini movement.” Eventually, the young protesters took their march to Bruce Becker’s — the principal of the school — office where they sat down and refused to leave until he listened to their demands.
The issue they were protesting? How unfair it was that they couldn’t use the “Big Kid Playground.”
“Laws aren’t always right. And there are rules that aren’t fair,” says Neufeld, who organized the event as a way to teach his students about MLK. “I wanted the kids to understand that they have a right to peacefully protest.”
Neufeld says the “mini movement” was done as a way to encourage his students to feel more confident about using their voices. He wanted to teach them about their right to speak up and draw attention to issues that are unfair or unjust. The protest was also a way to get the students to start thinking about the world they live in, in a way that made sense to them.
The teacher says he asked his students what issues were affecting them at the moment. For the young children, their biggest concern was playtime, specifically being restricted from playing where they wanted to. And after speaking with Becker, the students were able to negotiate time on the playground — much to their delight.
“We were heard, our voices were listened to, and we were able to change our little world for us,” says Neufeld. “We didn’t hurt anyone [with our protest]. We just walked and peacefully protested… [and] we were able to negotiate and meet down the middle.”