MARYSVILLE — In the week following this year’s observance of Martin Luther King Day, the students and staff of Sunnyside Elementary commemorated Dr. King’s life and legacy for a packed house audience of community members that included Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring.
Sunnyside Elementary music teacher Brenda Ehrhardt has conducted a concert assembly in honor of King for all eight years that she’s taught at the school, but this year marked the first “in a few years” that she’d been able to include kindergarten students in addition to the choir and Orff instrumental ensemble.
“We had 85 students from choir and 28 from our Orff ensemble involved in this year’s assembly,” Ehrhardt said. “While we had to make cuts in recent years, we were able to get all four of the school’s kindergarten classes involved this year.”
Because the school’s Christmas concert immediately preceded its winter break, Ehrhardt had only three weeks to pull together this year’s concert memorializing King, which also included spoken word performances by several students summing up his biography and achievements on behalf of civil rights.
“That amounted to only four rehearsals each for choir and Orff,” Ehrhardt said. “I was able to get the kindergarteners started on rehearsals before Christmas, though.”
Not only is this Principal Rhonda Moore’s first school year at Sunnyside Elementary, but Jan. 24 also marked her first Martin Luther King concert assembly at the school, and she was effusive in her praise for Ehrhardt’s coordination of the event.
“Martin Luther King Day has always been one of my favorites,” said Moore, who thanked Ehrhardt for the opportunity to read an excerpt from King’s “I have a dream” speech during the assembly. “I’ve always told my students throughout my career that it was because of Dr. King and others like him that I’ve been able to be their teacher, and now their principal, because King fought to convince people that a person of color is just as capable as a white person.”
Although King was killed several decades before any of her students at Sunnyside were born, Moore is gratified that programs such as Ehrhardt’s continue to remind successive generations that those civil rights pioneers’ struggles paved the way for freedoms that many young people take for granted now.
“Children today can sit down next to friends who might be different colors from them and not even think about it,” Moore said. “They never would have had such opportunities under segregation.”
Moore lauded Ehrhardt’s script for the performance and touted it as a means of teaching empathy to the students and their adult audience alike.
“We are so fortunate to have Brenda here,” Moore said. “This concert is all on her, although she’s involved some of our other staff members as singers, to show the kids that our faculty has passions beyond just teaching. Repeating King’s words helps to keep his dream alive. We’ve made progress, but there’s still work to be done.”