In Tiffany Myers homeroom class at Harding Academy, third-grade students drew pictures of and wrote about Ruby Bridges after her recent visit to Harding for the American Studies Institute’s (ASI) Distinguished Lecture Series on Feb. 9. Bridges’ story of bravery as the first black student to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960 has inspired audiences of all ages, particularly this group of third-graders, according to Myers.
“It was really interesting to hear her story from her point of view,” third-grader Ford Corder said. Myers said the students learned about Bridges and other Civil Rights leaders in their social studies class, and attending the ASI lecture was originally offered as an extra credit opportunity. “After they went, they came back and any of them that went, they could not stop talking about it,” Myers said. “They were telling all the stories that she told.”
Third-grade student Ava Ellis attended the lecture and recounted how Bridges had to walk through an angry mob every day before school.
“She said a prayer for them as she walked through them,” Ellis said. “It was brave for her because she could’ve not done that and gotten really scared.”
It was then that Myers decided to create a new assignment specifically about Bridges and her story. She said it was a spur of the moment thing, but she wanted her homeroom class to complete a teacher-directed drawing and writing assignment.
“One of my students wrote about how it inspired him to be more kind to everyone,” Myers said. “(I like) just seeing their reactions and how they apply it to their lives.”
Third grade student Hunter Griffin said that she wrote about how Bridges’ story impacted her.
“She didn’t care what other people thought of her, and she just wanted to do something good,” Griffin said. “She was able to walk through that crowd without doing anything mean to anyone.”
According to Myers, it was important to her for her students to know that Bridges made a difference as a young elementary student.
“It’s someone they can identify with,” Myers said. “They can identify with Ruby Bridges, and in fact, in their writing they wrote about how she was brave and didn’t yell back when people were yelling things at her. I think it was really identifiable for them. I love watching their growth in their understanding of that and how they can apply it to things happening today in the world.”
Third grade student Ellie Morgan said she found Bridge’s actions to be very brave.
“When she got in the school, all the parents went in there and took out all their kids,” Morgan said. “She thought it wasn’t about black versus white; she thought it was evil versus good.”
According to Myers, the third-graders have also been learning about Black History Month and its significance.
“It blows their minds when we talk about things that happened. They don’t understand at all how that could have happened or how people could think that,” Myers said. “We talk about that. We talk about how fear makes people do things that aren’t necessarily right. I think it’s really important to see that we can learn from those things, but also that there has been growth in our country. I want them to know that this can go on; it’s not over. And their attitude going forward toward these things can really make a difference for people.”
Third-grader Shelby Payne said that learning about Black History Month is important for everyone.
“We learn about Black History Month so that we don’t think that just because of our skin color that we’re all completely different and have to treat people differently,” Payne said.
The class’ drawings and letters about Ruby Bridges are on display at Harding Academy.