Achieving more together, eighth graders come together in spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Eighth graders from across Bellingham Public Schools were invited to assemble together at the MLK Day Rally: A Path to YES! held in the Bellingham High School performing arts center.

The idea to bring all district grade 8 students together was first developed by educators at Kulshan and Shuksan middle schools who worked on a joint school project in the 2015-16 school year during their Staff Learning Days. That project turned into an end-of-the-year student showcase called One Schoolhouse; Many Voices and was hosted at the Pickford Cinema.

A key strategy of The Bellingham Promise, a One Schoolhouse Approach ensures excellence and equity for all students. Continuing to ‘scale out’ this equity, educators this school year expanded the joint project idea to include the entire grade 8 level, and planned a rally to preface the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and day of service. More than 600 students attended from Fairhaven, Kulshan and Shuksan middle schools.

The rally centered around the work of Benjie Howard and Wade Colwell-Sandoval and the New Wilderness Project. Blending music, spoken word, visual images and multiple sharing opportunities from the participants in the auditorium, the hour-long experience engaged and energized the students.

The first question asked of the students was “When did you experience beauty recently?”  The responses were profound and touching. One student shared it was from the smile and joy shared by a friend at the top of a roller coaster, and another stated that it was the peace and love found in singing with friends in a choir. Still others shared that they viewed the full, clear January moon that shone brightly to another who said he was excited to see a Lamborghini driving down the street. Through this initial sharing, the energy in the room came together and Benjie and Wade deepened what was shared with their song “Beauty.”

The two performers then asked the students to name a person (focusing on one with a feminine spirit) who lifted them up, who brought them great encouragement or hope. From the inspirational teacher to the loving mom, from the sassy baby niece to the greatest ravioli-making grandma, the students then listened to the song Descent with the beautiful lyrics “Look at me, I just rise and fall.” See video below.


One of the final songs shared was called Many Rivers, and many students voiced their reaction saying they enjoyed the metaphor that though we are all many rivers and different from each other, we all flow together into one sea.

The 8th grade MLK Rally was a chance to take a moment with these students to think about some of the biggest, most important questions that render life meaningful.

As 8th grade teacher Joe Wooding stated at the end of the rally, this was more than an event, it was an experience. “Experiences,” he said, “endure and are meant to be carried with you.” The hope moving forward was for these soon-to-be high school students to take this experience to grow and to build strong community, advocating in all areas of their life for social justice.
Keith Schacht, director of Teaching and Learning, states that the New Wilderness Project “was a great opportunity for our 8th graders to celebrate not only the life and legacy of Dr. King, but to demonstrate how his message manifests in their daily lives.”

If you missed the rally, Kulshan Middle school eighth graders will be part of the 19th Annual MLK, Jr. Human Rights Conference on Saturday Jan. 14 in a workshop called American History: Heroic or Tragic? A Showcase of Civil Controversy. Click here to learn more about this free workshop held in the Syre Center at Whatcom Community College.

In addition, during lunch at the Human Rights conference, New Wilderness Project will be playing a song or two.


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