South San Francisco 5th-Graders' Mission To Honor Civil Rights Icon Ruby Bridges Continues To Spread

If, on a November 14th in the not-to-distant future, you happen to hear about a Ruby Bridges Walk To School Day in your neighborhood, remember that it all started at one South San Francisco elementary school.

And it began with a single question.

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"One of my scholars asked, 'Is there a Ruby Bridges Day?'" Martin Elementary School 5th-grade teacher Deborah Carlino recalled.

It was February 2017 and Carlino was teaching a unit on Black History Month, sharing the stories of legendary Civil Rights icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr. When the conversation turned to Ruby Bridges, a 5-year-old African American girl who integrated her Louisiana school in 1960 flanked by federal marshals, students wondered if Bridges had been honored in the same way as King had, with a day in her honor.

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AP File

Carlino researched the question and reported back to her students that there was no Ruby Bridges Day. "And they were all fired up and thought there should be," Carlino said. "I asked them if they wanted to do something about it and they said, 'Yes.'"

Carlino's 5th-graders proceeded to gather more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking their school district to designate November 14 as Ruby Bridges Day. The students presented their petition and made statements in front of the district's board members. They voted to approve the day.

"I was happy," Maddie Popielak, now in 7th grade, recalled. "Honestly, I started to cry."

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Carlino's classes, though, were not done yet.

The following year, her new 5th-graders picked up right where their predecessors had left off. "Because we all wanted to honor someone this courageous," Anveet Benipal said. Benipal and her classmates took the idea to the next level: the San Mateo County Board of Education.

Once again, they got a, 'Yes." This time, adding "Walk To School" as part of the yearly celebration.

Carlino's current crop of students is not about to let things end there. They have already made their presentation to the South San Francisco City Council and succeeded in making the day a city-wide event.

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Carlino is in awe of her students' ability to make change happen at such a young age. Then again, they have a good role model.

"Ruby resonates with these children because these children also have challenges. They have struggles," Carlino said. "It really touches their hearts because if she can do this, they can do this. If she can effect change, they can effect change."

For this year's walk, hundreds of students, parents, and teachers showed up in front of South San Francisco City Hall to walk to their schools.

Carlino thinks her children are not done, yet. She expects future students will want to continue to push their idea to the state level or even nationally. With their track record so far, it would be unwise to bet against them.

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