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District 29 honors memory of King with eye on college

While some students honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by learning about his battles for civil rights, School District 29 is focusing on one aspect of his legacy — college.

Students throughout the district took part in College Day Friday, learning about higher education opportunities from their teachers, principals and visiting university students, all clad in their college apparel.

This year’s College Day was the third annual event in recognition of King, whose birthday will be observed Jan. 20, said Michael Johnson, District 29 superintendent.

“College Day is the way that we celebrate and honor the memory of Martin Luther King,” Johnson said. “Usually the day is focused on the civil rights movement, which is important, but there’s another aspect, and that is that Dr. King was an intellectual. He was a thinker.”

The day featured an assembly program at all the schools in District 29, which covers Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, St. Albans, Hollis, Springfield Gardens and Queens Village.

“The students also learn that the road to college begins wherever you are, whether the student is in second, third or fourth grade,” Johnson said. “College begins at that point, not when you get there.”

At PS 176, the Cambria Heights School at 120-45 235th St., students participated in the program by reading poems they had written and excerpts from “I Have a Dream,” King’s most famous speech. They also shared information about King’s life and work.

“Dr. King had a great dream for America, that we can learn to live together,” said faculty member Georgia Grange, who emceed the program at PS 176. “We can achieve this dream if we’re committed to peace and justice.”

The students also sang a variety of songs, including the National Anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” and Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday,” in honor of King’s upcoming birthday.

After the assembly, college students who live in the area, including some who went to schools in District 29, talked with individual classes and answered questions from the children.

“It’s very important what’s going on here today,” Johnson told the PS 176 students. “These are young people who have their own lives, their own things they need to do, but they took the time to come back and talk to you about college.”

Tosha Groves, a junior at SUNY Buffalo who went to PS 251 and IS 59 in Springfield Gardens, came to PS 176 for College Day two years ago, and said students wanted to know everything — from the cost to the majors to student life. But her favorite piece of advice for the students is to enjoy college but to work hard.

“Stay focused,” she said. “Once they get over this part — elementary school, middle school — it gets easier. College is hard, but it’s not as hard as they make it out to be.”

Neisha Carly, a senior at SUNY Buffalo, urged the children to make the most out of the college experience.

“Try to be open-minded and try to diversify yourself,” said Carly, who went to IS 192 in St. Albans. “Expand your mind.”

But in all the talk of college, King’s struggles for civil rights are not forgotten.

“Even part of his civil rights program was the idea that it was miseducation that caused people to hate and be prejudiced,” said Johnson.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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