Mariah Corbitt, 17, of Hauppauge, holds a paper dove that...

Mariah Corbitt, 17, of Hauppauge, holds a paper dove that expresses how she shows kindness to others during an MLK ceremony at Eastern Suffolk BOCES Premm Learning Center in Oakdale. (Jan. 17, 2014) Credit: Brittany Wait

As three doves were released into the sky, 6-year-old Lauren Reilly, a developmentally disabled student at Premm Learning Center in Oakdale, waved, shooting kisses up to the sky.

“She always has a smile on her face and is kind,” said Reilly’s aid, Maureen Voos. “She’s like this every day. She was most excited to see the birds. She easily shows kindness.”

Reilly was among 110 Eastern Suffolk BOCES students who honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at a ceremony at the school on Friday that included the rendition of a Michael Jackson classic.

Students at the learning center -- which serves Long Islanders ages 5-21 with moderate to severe developmental disabilities -- learned about the importance of kindness, community and friendship through exploring their own acts of kindness.

Principal Carolynn Hansen wanted students to take away an understanding of all that King, an activist and leader in the civil rights movement who was assassinated in 1968, did to strengthen his country.

“One of the things Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to say is that we all need to listen to each other and work together towards a common cause,” Hansen said. “That’s what they learned.”

Students were given a white paper cut-out of a dove to write an act of kindness on. They then sang along to Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World,” while holding the doves, to later be displayed throughout the center’s halls. After the sing-along, the students shared their acts of kindness out loud, expressing why it’s important to them.

Known for her warm smile, Mariah Corbitt, a 17-year-old from Hauppauge, sat in her wheelchair holding up her paper dove to show other students and teachers passing by.

“Her act of kindness is to make someone smile,” said her special education teacher, Helene Davis, who has known her for 10 years. “It’s not hard for her because that’s what she does every day. She likes school and making her friends smile. She’s a happy girl.”

Davis said students were exposed to movies and books on the former civil rights leader.

“To celebrate his birthday,” she said, “we’ve been teaching students about what a great man he was, spreading the message that all should be treated equally and fair.”

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