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Students study 'world-changers' and social justice

Darrell Garner, community service representative of the Nassau

Darrell Garner, community service representative of the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights, speaks to fifth-grader True Drew, 10, of Hempstead, at Jackson Main Elementary School in the Hempstead district on Tuesday.  Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Community leader Darrell Garner stood in front of a class of attentive Hempstead fifth-graders Tuesday morning, describing the role of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the power of nonviolent protests during the civil rights movement.

It’s “very important to know why Dr. Martin Luther King existed," said Garner, the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights' community service representative. "He’s one of my icons, and he’s the reason why I think I’m able to do the things that we all do here today.”

Garner, 45, was one of several speakers at Jackson Main Elementary School for the “Non-Violence  for a Better World” event — kicking off the Hempstead district's bid to implement the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program.

Jackson Main, with 490 students in first through fifth grades, is one of seven elementary schools in the district that are candidates, working to become authorized by the internationally recognized Geneva-based education program. Its framework focuses on personal development as well as creating critical and independent thinkers.

“You all have the power to grow up to be world-changers, to be global citizens, to understand how to be kind, to understand how to change the world where there are problems,” Felicia Prince, district coordinator for the IB Primary Years Program, told the 90 fifth-graders. "Make sure you listen. Make sure you ask questions. And make sure you make your dreams big, so that you grow up and make the world a better place.”

The nearly 8,000-student district, the largest K-12 system in Nassau County, would be the first public system on Long Island authorized for the Primary Years Program, IB officials said. Marshall School, which currently serves prekindergartners, is in the applicant phase, and Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School is a candidate for the Middle Years Program.

The rigorous IB authorization process, which takes two to three years, will be a challenge for the district, which has struggled for decades to better its record of low academic performance. Teachers and staff began training last week, and Tuesday's event was the first International Baccalaureate-related event for students.

Presenters and event participants included Bakul Matalia, a volunteer for the Shanti Fund charitable organization, Hempstead Mayor Don Ryan and John Choe, executive director of the Flushing Greater Chamber of Commerce.

During his session, Garner described his parents, who took part in demonstrations during the civil rights movement in the South. His father, James A. Garner, was elected mayor of Hempstead Village in 1989, becoming the Island’s first African-American mayor.

“If you go back to your past, you know where you’re going in the future,” Garner said.

True Drew, 10, of Hempstead, said he learned a lot about King and nonviolent protesting. “I would protest if there were unfair laws, and I would be nonviolent doing it, because violence is a bad thing," he said.

Students learned about the contributions of Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist who went on to be his country's president, and Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement whose hallmark was nonviolent civil disobedience. They broke into workgroups to discuss their attributes and characteristics.

“We’re trying to teach them how to be civically minded,” Jackson Main Principal Richard Brown said. The community members are role models for students, showing how they can make an impact through their actions, he said.

What they’re learning through the program helps them better understand aspects of different cultures, Brown said, a beneficial lesson in a school that has a large Latino population from various countries. And they are headed to middle school next year, where there is an even larger, more diverse student body, he noted.

“We want them to think about what their actions are as it affects their community, as it affects what they’re going to be doing in their future,” Brown said.

Sofia Ufuah, 10, of Hempstead, said she learned a lot about protesting.

“Nonviolence is a better way to take action than using violence,” she said.

Fast facts on IB

  • The International Baccalaureate Program was founded in Geneva in 1968.
  • Nearly 5,000 schools globally teach IB programs.
  • The Primary Years Program is for ages 3-12, the Middle Years Program is for ages 11-16, and the IB Diploma Program and IB Career-related Program are for ages 16-19.
  • The authorization process for schools varies, but typically takes two to three years.

Source: International Baccalaureate Program,

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