UMMS celebrates King's legacy with Acceptance Day

Students learn about the many differences and similarities of community members during annual day celebrating diversity and acceptance.

(UMMS) students honored the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Friday, Jan. 13, with the school’s 25th annual . UMMS celebrated its first Acceptance Day in 1986, the year that Martin Luther King Day was first official observed.

Acceptance Day honored the Civil Rights leader’s life and message with an assembly, an award bearing his name, and many presentations which celebrated and explained the differences between people.


Why Acceptance Day?

“It teaches us how to all work together,” said eighth-grader Betsy Adeoye.

Adeoye read the poem “Standing Tall” by Jamie McKenzie at the assembly. As eighth-graders, it was the Adeoye and fellow eighth-grader Casey Kerrigan’s third year taking part in the UMMS Acceptance Day.

Both girls said they thought it was a good event for their classmates and the sixth and seventh grade students.

“They can learn about different cultures,” said Kerrigan, referring to the presentations that took place throughout the school.

Adeoye was looking forward to hearing from a Holocaust survivor who would share his experiences at one of the presentations.

“We’ve been talking about it (the Holocaust) in class, and it’s really important to learn about it from a first-hand witness,” said Adeoye.


Differences and Similarities

“As the diversity of the kids in the school expands, it’s better for the kids to understand the difference,” said Rob Ricker, an eighth-grade Social Studies teacher at UMMS.

For example, Ricker pointed out that a few years ago the only languages besides English that were included in the assembly welcome speech were languages taught at UMMS, like Spanish. This year, students who spoke Russian, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Kiowa, and more brought their language and culture to the welcome assembly.

Ricker was one of the many teachers that collaborated to plan Acceptance Day.  

“There are different cultures and different crafts to explore,” said Ricker.

Students could learn about Japanese Internment, Cherokee culture, Irish dance, Autism, African Americans Achieving Greatness, and more in the many presentations.  Bikers Against Child Abuse served a dual purpose, fighting child abuse while also changing stereotypes.

“When you think about motorcycle guys, you don’t think of them fighting child abuse,” said Ricker, but these bikers show that they don’t fit the stereotype of what a biker is thought to be.

Students also learned about the e, American Sign Language, and cyberbulling at the presentations.

“There are so many activities; it’s hard not to take something out of it,” said Ricker.

Upper Moreland resident Chris Foley has presented at Acceptance Day for the past seven years. He talks to the middle school students about Downs Syndrome awareness. Foley said he wants students “to not fear what they don’t understand.” Through eliminating fear, he believes youth will become more accepting. The issue is a personal one for Foley, as his 16-year-old daughter has Downs Syndrome and is a former UMMS student.

Another presenter, Roger Weiss, spoke with students about his life as a visually impaired man. He showed students representations of how different visual impairments affect one’s sight. Weiss also shared tools he uses, such as guides for writing checks and letters.

“We, disabled people, do the same things,” as others, said Weiss.  

State Representative Tom Murt led a discussion with students about violence and bullying. Students discussed the effects of physical and mental bullying with the politician.

“You have to embrace diversity,” advised Murt.

Eighth-grader Jake Klouser, his mother Mindy, and UMMS special-education teacher Faryle Waterman presented “The R Word” with the slogan “Spread the Word to End the Word.”

“It’s a large campaign” said Mindy.

The campaign is run by Best Buddies and the Special Olympics, with the goal of stopping people from using “retard” and “retarded” as a derogatory word.

Students pledge not to use the word at the end of the presentation, and they can also pledge online.

“You don’t realize how much you do it until you pay attention,” said Mindy.

As a middle school teacher, Waterman said she has heard students hurl the word at each other as an insult.

“The term is no longer in use – the (new) term is intellectual disability,” said Waterman.

During “The R Word” presentation, students have a conversation about the “R word.”

“Then we have a question and answer session with Jake,” who has an intellectual disability, said Waterman.


The Dr. Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award

Each Acceptance Day, one student and one adult are awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award for their contributions to the community.

This year’s recipients were eighth-grade student Jeff Davis and the Honorable Paul Leo, District Judge of Upper Moreland, Hatboro, and Horsham.

“I was a little surprised,” said Davis.

When the award was presented, the many contributions Davis made were listed.

“As it went on, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s me,’” said the eighth-grader.

Davis’ community service includes serving on the UMMS student council, his work as a Boy Scout, and a mission trip to Lares, Puerto Rico. He built a footbridge in Pennypack Park as a Boy Scout project.

“That was fun,” said Davis.

He also helped construct a worship stage for a church in Puerto Rico, and he plans to go on another mission trip this summer.

Judge Leo didn’t see his award coming, as he thought he was at Acceptance Day to do the presentation on juveniles and the justice system, which he has presented for the past decade.

“I am really taken back,” said Leo upon accepting his award.  

The judge said he comes to speak with youth about the places where they most often intersect with the justice system, mostly truancy and underage drinking.

“They see this imposing figure with a Harry Potter robe,” said Leo, “You try to break it down for them.”

He tells the students how truancy can lead to counseling, probation, fines up to $300 a day, taking away or delaying a drivers’ license, or even placing a parent in jail.

“That is the very last resort,” he said of placing a parent in jail.

Leo also lets students know that underage drinking can have long-term consequences, and make it difficult to work in some careers, such as education or medial jobs.

“The only time I want to see you is when you stop by to say hello,” Leo said he tells the youth.


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