Yesterday was a historic day at our school. You could actually feel it. The air was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. No, we were not celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, fourth graders were instructed to dress up for St. Patrick’s day on Wednesday. As I walked down the hallway I saw boys in ties with slicked down hair and girls in dresses and little shiny shoes. “Don’t you look handsome! Wow, you look so pretty!” I’d exclaim. I couldn’t help it. They all looked so sweet and shiny. The fourth graders smiled proudly. Everyone was on their best behavior. Today was a very big day. Today was Ruby Day.
The fourth graders study Ruby Bridges as part of our curriculum. They learn about a time not so long ago when students were not allowed to go to the same school because of the color of their skin. They are outraged by the very idea of it. How can that be? The color of your skin shouldn’t matter! One teacher feels a special connection because she and Ruby were born months apart. In the past her class wrote a book for Mrs. Henry, Ruby’s teacher, and mailed it to her home in Boston. This teacher was over the moon when Mrs. Henry took the time to write a beautiful letter back to her class. When this fourth grade teacher found out that Ruby Bridges does school visits she made it her mission to get Ruby to our school.
The fourth grade teachers all agreed to eliminate field trips this year to fund the Ruby visit. Part of the contract stated that the press could not be alerted. Ms. Bridges wanted the visit to be for the children only. If the press were there, she would turn around and leave. We had to be very quiet about our special guest. It was a stealth operation for sure. Our cafeteria also serves as the gymnasium and auditorium so the lunch schedule was changed around to accommodate the event. Students ate lunches in their classrooms. Recesses were held at entirely different times. Special folding chairs were shipped over from the middle school. No one would be sitting on the floor for this presentation. It was all very dignified.
As she entered the auditorium it felt like the whole room took in a collective breath and then the children and adults smiled and clapped. She said later she could feel as she entered the room that she was about to make new friends. She commented on how welcome everyone made her feel. I think what struck me the most was that she still has the same sweet little face that she had as that six-year old being led into school by the U.S. Court Marshals. See for yourself below.
Ruby Bridges was all we had anticipated and more. She spoke to the students about how they can make positive changes for the world. She provided details about what it felt like in 1960 to go to school with Mrs. Henry. She talked about Mrs. Henry being more than a teacher but also a friend. They still see each other quite a bit today. She relayed the feeling of longing for friends to play with regardless of what they looked like. She was dignified and kind and genuinely happy to spend time in a room with our students.
What an amazing opportunity for our students and teachers. We came face to face with history. We met a joyous, brave, ladylike little girl who grew up to be a joyous, brave, ladylike adult who continues to spread the message of hope and kindness to all.