Reese Harnick, middle, enjoys a puppet show along with Daisy Thunstrom, left, and Caroline Gilchrist during the School Days Off Program on Monday morning at Soda Creek Elementary School. The program, in cooperation with Partners in Routt County, designed several activities to teach the importance of racial diversity as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Photo by John F. Russell

Reese Harnick, middle, enjoys a puppet show along with Daisy Thunstrom, left, and Caroline Gilchrist during the School Days Off Program on Monday morning at Soda Creek Elementary School. The program, in cooperation with Partners in Routt County, designed several activities to teach the importance of racial diversity as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Even without school, MLK Day teaches

Monday’s activities stress equality, working together

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Teale Carlsson makes puppets with the School Days Off Program on Monday morning at Soda Creek Elementary School.

— After watching a puppet show Monday that helped demonstrate how people are different from one another, a group of about three dozen Steamboat Springs youngsters were asked about the play’s message.

“Treat people how you want to be treated,” said Paul Steinke, a kindergartner who attends Steamboat Springs Montessori School.

Most Steamboat students were out of school Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but 33 attended the city’s School Days Off program at Soda Creek Elementary School. The program, run through Steamboat Springs’ Parks, Open Space & Recreational Services Department, provides activities for kindergartners through fifth-graders from 7:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. on days when there is no school.

Monday, however, was a little different.

AmeriCorps volunteers who work as school-based mentors for Partners in Routt County provided a few activities aimed to teach students the importance of equality, working together and service.

In many ways, the activities reinforced what the students already knew.

“Martin Luther King Day is really important because he helped the black and white (people) be together,” Soda Creek kindergartner Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan said. “It made them have the same things so they would be equal.”

Soda Creek fourth-grader Keelan Vargas said King wanted everyone to be treated the same.

“He made speeches about how everyone should have equal rights,” she said.

School-based mentor Lindsay Dietz said getting that message across in a community with limited racial diversity can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible.

“Kids this age are very receptive to that message,” she said. “It needs to start young and be reinforced over time by parents, teachers and the community.”

The school-based mentors, along with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps AmeriCorps volunteers, were participating in a nationwide effort to promote service in local communities, said Melissa Calhoon, program manager for Partners. She said it was the third year the Partners’ AmeriCorps volunteers have teamed up with the city’s School Days Off program.

Calhoon said the activities helped children understand why they don’t attend school on the day that honors King’s birth and encourages people to serve in their communities.

“They’re so excited they don’t have school,” she said. “It’s important for them to understand diversity and the importance of Martin Luther King Day.”

The students rotated through three activities. In addition to the puppet show, they played a game that demonstrated the importance of working together.

The students also made cards that they delivered Monday afternoon, with cookies, to Steamboat Springs Police Department officers, members of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, members of Routt County Search and Rescue and the city’s public works employees who drive snow plows.

The cards were intended to honor those who serve the community every day, Calhoon said.

Alexis Wolf, youth program coordinator for the city’s Parks, Open Space & Recreational Services Department, said the day’s activities meshed nicely with School Days Off’s regular programming, which promotes team-building through different games and instruction.

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