Ask your students to name their heroes. Replies will certainly vary, but a few responses will pop up over and over again – Batman, a parent, a fireman or their favorite professional athlete. Depending on the grade level you teach, a handful of kids may mention historical figures like Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. These historic leaders are frequently celebrated in public school classrooms, but does it ever seem like your students have trouble relating to these impressive grown-ups and their big accomplishments?
A true hero to whom your students can certainly relate is Ruby Bridges, the African-American first grader who pioneered school integration at an all-white New Orleans school. Ruby’s first day at William Frantz Elementary School was November 14th, 1960, and the events of that day were not only historic, but truly dramatic. Ruby’s arrival at her new school was covered by national news media. She walked through crowds of angry protesters, and entered a building where she was considered an outsider. She spent the entire school year isolated from her peers, working one-on-one with a teacher specially assigned to her. She persevered and ultimately broke down barriers that had been in place for decades. Let’s not forget, she was just six years old.
Bringing Ruby’s story into your classroom not only offers a great opportunity to explore a variety of powerful historical lessons, but also the chance to inspire students through Ruby’s inner strength and admirable character traits. Below is a list of great resources you can mix and match to create a memorable lesson for your students. Perhaps Ruby’s name will be added your students’ lists of heroes.
Teaching Ruby Bridges:
Scholastic offers excellent resources and activities to bring the Ruby Bridges story to life for your students.
Learn more about Ruby’s teacher, Barbara Henry, who stood by Ruby’s side throughout her tumultuous first year at William Frantz Elementary.
If you have ESL students in your class, be sure to check out these Ruby Bridges activity worksheets designed just for them.
Disney made a film of Ruby’s story in 1998, and many teachers have given it high marks. Ruby Bridges is available to buy or stream from Amazon.
Let your students know what Ruby is up to today. She is still an advocate for equal education, and inspiring everyone from students like yours to the President of the United States – a 1964 Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby was moved to the White House in 2011.
Let us know in the comments if you plan to introduce your students to Ruby on November 14th, the anniversary of her first day of school as a hero.