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Murray Journal

Students learn impact Ruby Bridges had on schools as event promotes kindness

Feb 09, 2024 02:12PM ● By Julie Slama

Students are greeted as they arrive at Horizon Elementary on Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day. (Photo courtesy of Adah Shumway.)

At McMillan, Horizon and Liberty elementaries, there was a day when students reflected a bit more on their walk to school.

School children at the three Murray schools took part in the Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day, a nationwide annual walk held on the anniversary that 6-year-old Bridges became the first African American student to attend the all-white public elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana, Nov. 14, 1960. Bridges walked to school each day as she was denied a seat on the school bus because of the color of her skin.

When Bridges went to school that first day, she was escorted by four federal marshals and may not have fully understood why she faced hatred and protests, said Liberty Elementary teacher Aimee Ballard, who led a classroom discussion about her.

“I asked my kids, ‘Who is Ruby Bridges?’ and ‘Why is she an important figure in our history?’” Ballard said. “I asked them what impact Ruby Bridges had on our schools and if they felt like they could walk into school at that time. Many of them said they needed courage and resilience.”

She said most of her students said they’d fear the uncertainty.

“One of my students said they’d feel frustrated because they wouldn’t understand why people were being so mean to them when they’re just a kid, trying to go to school,” Ballard said. “It was hard for some students to picture and comprehend why adults would treat Ruby that way when in the pictures, she’s a cute little girl who just wanted to go to school. That brought us to talk about courage and whether they’d keep going even if their stomachs got knotted up and adults were yelling at them as students like they were to her. I think for my third graders, they learned we all need courage, whether we’re coming into the school and we’re nervous for a test, or maybe we had a hard day with our friends or maybe the morning wasn’t so great at home. They learned things can be scary and they’ll need to have courage to get through it even though they may want to turn around from what they fear.”

All three schools focused on kindness, supporting each other and making a positive impact in their community.

Using resources available from the AAA auto club and the Ruby Bridges Foundation, McMillan PTA President Bethany Matsumori wanted their first time participating in the event to be uplifting.

“We had the kids wear purple, her favorite color, and had a call for posters so our families could put inspiring quotes or messages about being kind or making a difference on those,” she said, adding that they were posted on the fence as the students approached the school. “As kids walked in, the messages were to be very kind and encouraging to one another.”

Matsumori said that was important because Bridges wasn’t met with kindness on the day that she went into the school.

“She changed many things,” she said. “That is a message elementary kids can connect with, that even though they’re young, they can make a big impact and the best way to do that is through being positive and working with people.” 

It’s the second year Horizon was participated in the walk, said Adah Shumway, region PTA diversity and inclusion committee chair and Horizon Black History Month committee chair.

“Last year, we held signs to welcome the kids into school,” she said “But this year, besides the signs, we wanted to have more of a dialogue about what are the things that our community wants to see change or improve and how can we improve those things? We want kids to realize they can improve their community and make a difference.”

Shumway had lesson plan material for teachers based on a book about Bridges’ experience, and they talked about what happened and how it was memorable in the history of the country.

“It’s important that kids learn they can make a difference in their community, and they can make change happen,” she said. “It may not be as drastic or dramatic, but they can see something that can be improved and take that situation and make it better. I want kids to learn about opportunities in their communities to change things, whether it’s getting more recycling in the school or working to be kind and to prevent bullying.”

Ballard showed her Liberty students a video about Bridges, held her conversation and then took her students outside to walk on the school grounds.

“As we walked, we thought about what it would feel like to be worried about coming to school and how it may feel to be so scared your first day for us and tried to imagine Ruby’s first day where she wasn’t welcome,” Ballard said. “Many of them had empathy for her because she didn’t feel safe at school, and others said she had great courage and when faced with adversity or a challenge, they, too, want to be strong like she was. They want to make a difference, to be a bit kinder, and that’s just from that bit of discussion and experience. Going forward, I’d like to see more discussion or home discussions about it going forward and see where it can branch out to. I think this is something important we can always circle back to in our learning.” λ