YONKERS N.Y. -- Students at one Yonkers school danced, clapped and sang Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday" as a way to pay tribute to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fourth-grade students from Cross Hill Academy sang birthday songs, recited African-American poetry and read civil rights stories, to honor the life and legacy of King, who was born on Jan. 15, 1929.
Having an event dedicated to King was a priority because of the school's high number of students of African descent, said Principal Michael Walpole.
"The arts are a big piece of what we do here, and even though we've lost funding, we've managed to really infuse them into our curriculum," said Walpole. "Martin Luther King is a very important person in our history, and we wanted to teach our students how his vision influenced and changed all of our lives. He paved the paths for our futures, and it's so much more than just the speech that he's known for."
Cassandra Jimenez, 9, was one of the many students participating in the tribute, and said it was inspirational.
"My favorite part of these lessons was that we were able to learn how he actually dealt with the issues while he was alive," said Jimenez. "He was able to deal with racism in a way that most people couldn't during the time. Most people didn't know what to do, but he did and I'm happy that I now know how he lived. It made me appreciate him a lot more."
Teaching the students respect from an early age is important because it will make the world a better place moving forward, said fourth-grade teacher Edwin Sández.
"One of the ways we've managed to do this is by exposing our students to poetry as a starting point to educate them," said Sández. "We've been dissecting, examining and reciting poems from many influential black authors like Langston Hughes. We wanted to show them not only with Dr. King's work, but all inspirational work to really integrate the theme of dreams into their minds. This is the third time we've done with work poetry and the kids absolutely love it."
King opened up doors for people in a way not possible before his time, said 9-year-old Anthony Jacobs.
"He knocked down walls and changes the lives of people in other countries too," said Jacobs. "We learn about these things in school, and it's great, but I have a hard time thinking about how hard things must have been during his time. The thing that has stayed with me from all this is the line, 'But this King stood strong, stood proud, stood tall.' He worked for peace and changed all of our lives."