ATLANTIC CITY — Students from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School were filling plastic cups with fruit punch and slicing fruits for a salad Monday morning.
Other students began to set tables with forks and knives, and some were lining up, ready to serve a hot Thanksgiving meal.
The students were hosting the school’s 10th annual Special Education Thanksgiving Luncheon. What started years ago as an opportunity for students to have resources to enjoy a holiday meal has now turned into a lunch that hosts the city’s Board of Education members, Mayor Don Guardian and families of the students.
About 50 people were expected to attend the event Monday. Students set up the room, prepared the food, served the guests and presented a Google slide presentation about the history of Thanksgiving.
Valerie Crawford, who is the special education teacher at the school, said the event is a great opportunity for the students to socialize with other families and administrators.
“This is all organized by my students, who are self-contained special ed students, and they aren’t often given online opportunities to really socialize in appropriate ways with other people,” Crawford said. “It’s great for them to engage with people other than educationally and to work on conversation and social etiquette.”
Mayor Don Guardian has attended the event for four years straight. On Monday morning, he came in to a room of applause before getting a plate of turkey and sides from the children.
Guardian said he was impressed to see the school is teaching the kids the act of giving during the holidays.
“It’s great to really teach them about why we celebrate Thanksgiving and to give them a little bit of history in a fun setting,” Guardian said. “I enjoy Thanksgiving and love being with family, but I really enjoy serving food at the Salvation Army and the Mission. I think you appreciate that Thanksgiving is a time for us but also a time to give back to people. So I think these are great values to instill in children as they are becoming adults.”
A few of the children gave small speeches about the history of Thanksgiving, with fun facts about the holiday. Other students were going to read poems after the lunch was served.
Jameil Quintana and Louisy Torres co-read a section of the slideshow together.
The two said they were excited to serve lunch for the parents and to meet some of their classmates’ families.
“I’m looking forward to meeting other peoples’ parents and the Board of Education and the mayor,” said Jameil, 13, of Atlantic City. “We’re doing a good deed today and giving back to our parents who help us through our hard times and good times.”
“I’m here to meet families and ask people about how they celebrate Thanskgiving,” said Louisy, 12, of Atlantic City.
Crawford said the students have been looking forward to Monday’s lunch for weeks.
“You see the best of them shine through and this is what is hidden in these kids and not always given the opportunity to come through. They’re patient, organized, responsible and respectful and excited to interact with guests,” Crawford said.