Henderson Mill Fifth Graders Honor Month through Essay Contest
“What does Martin Luther King, Jr. mean to me?”
Henderson Mill Elementary hosted its second annual essay contest in January and February 2018. The contest is a byproduct of a partnership between Henderson Mill and Hormel Foods, Inc., who together seek to enrich the perspectives of students.
This year’s winner, Madison Tahtinen, said Dr. King means many things to her, but primarily freedom, confidence, perseverance and bravery. Her essay focused on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which outlined a future in which black and white American citizens live in harmony.
“When I think of Dr. King and his great character traits, that’s what I think of,” Tahtinen said.
Tahtinen and four other finalists—Isadri Hernandez, Meghan Robinson, Sadie McMillen, Cori Cole—were honored with a visit from Hormel Foods employees at a Henderson Mill Variety Show held in mid-February. Finalists were honored with official certificates and gift card prizes.
McMillen called Dr. King a symbol of bravery and justice. She said she liked being able to express herself about the Civil Rights leader and was honored to have him as an essay topic.
“He changed things and the way I live today,” McMillen said. “Have you ever wondered what would have happened if he didn’t lead non-violent protests? People couldn’t be friends with who they want to be.”
Robinson’s essay focused on her admiration for Dr. King and what he stood for as a leader. She acknowledged that through his actions, she is able to have plenty of options in her life.
“He is truly my hero,” Robinson said. “I wish I could see him today to tell him how much I appreciate all that he has done and people who are my color. He really wanted people to be kind to one another.”
Cole called Dr. King “an important part of everything, really,” and said he helped peoples’ lives for the better. She said she enjoyed researching Dr. King, as she was able to learn more about him than what’s covered in a typical class lesson.
“I learned about how he felt and how his friends felt when they were by his side doing all the marches,” Cole said. “His friends said they felt scared, but they didn’t get caught. But they did get hurt! He was a leader and freedom fighter. He helped everyone see that they are equal.”
Hernandez focused on Dr. King’s wisdom and leadership abilities.
“He inspired a lot of people to be better people,” Hernandez said. “He was the start of equal rights.”
Tahtinen’s essay was forwarded to Hormel’s home office in Minnesota, where it will be considered for a grand prize. Should her essay be chosen, the Henderson Mill fifth grader will receive an all-expenses paid trip and tour of the company’s facility.
Language arts teacher Ebony Jones praised the students’ essays for relating to their own lives.
“They really worked hard on them,” Jones said. “They put in a lot of work on their own to get it done and turned in. I’m very proud. They focused on equality, bringing people together, and opportunities. They really grasped the topic—making the personal connection is what set them apart.”
Fifth grade teacher Gayle Bradshaw said students enjoy the essay contest each year because they realize how important Martin Luther King, Jr. is to the world at large.
“The way the question was phrased really allows the students’ to make that necessary connection,” said Bradshaw. “Everything involved with learning Black History, you can see how important it is to students, personally. For the students to apply what they learn, it gives them a greater understanding of where people come from and where they can go.”
Principal Mitch Green said the students’ focus on tolerance in each of their essays is commendable. He said the students’ celebration of diversity and acknowledgement of what was necessary to achieve it is one factor that makes education at Henderson Mill unique.
“Tolerance is too low of a bar to set—it’s a floor, not a ceiling,” Green said. “We should instead seek out diversity. We should appreciate, treasure and celebrate it. That’s what we do here at Henderson Mill, whether it’s through an essay, project, celebration, or our STEM activities. It’s about celebrating the things that allow creativity and uniqueness of all of our students.”
Green said the annual contest is a great way to show students that the surrounding community is cheering on their education and providing support.
“It’s such a boost for students,” Green said. “It’s a great way for the business world to give back, have an avenue to give back and impact the future. It’s also extremely important for students to know there are people on the sidelines helping them along and want to see them successful. It’s good to know the skills they’re using here are immediately transferrable to the real world.”
Hormel is one of Henderson Mill’s chief STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) community partners. The school and the company’s Tucker office frequently work together on STEM nights, expert visitations to the school and more.