With the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington last August and Nelson Mandela’s death on Dec. 5, Kalles Junior High’s sixth annual march to Pioneer Park last Friday morning became a poignant event for many.
“The march has always been a major event at Kalles,” said Billie Lane, the school’s diversity club adviser. “The community-service piece and connecting students to the real world — all that comes together in this event.”
Lane, a math teacher at Kalles, has been a major part in pulling off the march that involves the entire student body of more than 900 for the past six years. She said her diversity club worked tirelessly over the past several weeks during lunch time across all three lunches.
“It’s grown so much this year,” Lane said. “Just because of this march, a number of kids joined up (with the club). We’re at around 70 students.”
Those students held placards with quotes that evoked the message of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. They included “We Shall Overcome,” “Stand Out” and “Join Together, Change the World.”
“We are honoring King today, so be serious about this,” said Guy Kovacs, the Kalles Junior High School principal.
Mario Casello, the former principal who served in the position for eight years, was credited for building the spirit of Tyee Goodness. Tyee is the school’s mascot.
“This speaks to respect, appreciation for one another,” Kovacs said. “We want students to know why they’re taking the day off (on Monday). The whole message is overall respect for others. We’re trying to empower students to do what is right, to work out of childhood and into adulthood that they have a voice, and that they do matter, and they can make a change.”
At 8 a.m. Friday, students gathered in the gymnasium. The general student body sat in the bleachers, and some held placards. They listened as their fellow students and teachers presented information that detailed the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and the impact the men made in the world.
On the back wall, a large overhead projector showed black-and-white photos of the March on Washington.
Kovacs encouraged students to be civil while they marched to Pioneer Park. He told them about the importance of respect and honoring King and Mandela.
“This is my second year in Puyallup, and this is an exceptional school-wide event,” said Tim Yeomans, superintendent of the Puyallup School District. “It’s in the fabric of the school. It’s about being welcoming, being kind. I’m impressed with the kids; they really understand what this is all about. To be able to participate is very meaningful.”
In the frigid January temperatures, the students and administrators marched to Pioneer Park and located behind the pavilion, where a podium and microphone was set up.
Students formed a half-circle around the podium to listen to presentations and songs by fellow students. One group, which included new assistant Principal LaShawnda Baldwin, performed the Michael Jackson hit “Man in the Mirror.”
Baldwin also gave the keynote speech. Her address touched on character and love, and how the two have the power to drive out hate. Baldwin also encouraged students to lift up others.
“Character is how you live your life when no one else watches,” Baldwin said. “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”
Lane was presented a bouquet of red roses from the diversity club.
“What I wish for you, and what I wish for the world, is for you to go out and change it,” she told the students.