By Curt Yeomans
Yerina Vazquez has a hard time picturing how Ruby Bridges felt in a New Orleans classroom in the 1960s.
Bridges was six when she started school at the William Frantz School in 1960. She was also a trailblazer, one of the first black students in the country to attend a desegregated public school. Bridges had to walk past angry people who did not think a black girl belonged in a school with white children. Some classmates did not like Bridges, because her skin was a different color.
Vazquez, a fourth-grader at Huie Elementary School, looks at her classmates and sees a different environment from the one Bridges saw 48 years ago.
"Everything is going fine now," Vazquez said. "Now, people from different backgrounds come together at school ... Everyone is getting along with each other. It's a lot better than the way things were back in the 1960s, when Ruby Bridges went to school."
The classes at Huie Elementary made "floats" out of audio-visual carts this month to highlight black pioneers. The annual program is designed to honor Black History Month, and has been going on at the school for the last 18 years. Some of the "floats" were brought out for the school's Parent-Teacher Association meeting on Tuesday night.
The floats celebrated a wide range of black people, from Oprah Winfrey to Harriet Tubman, to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Arthur Ashe, to Bill Cosby and Tyler Perry.
Songs, and a musical skit about Motown and the Civil Rights Movement, were also performed at the meeting to round out the program. Several students at Huie said they enjoyed working on the floats because it gave them a chance to gain some historical perspective on how events and people in today's society "got their opportunity from people who lived in the past."
"It's a part of my history," said Crystal Collins, a fourth-grader and one of Vazquez's classmates. "I get to learn about black people who stood up and made a difference," she continued.
"It's important to learn about them, because they show you how to be nice," said Emily Gomez, a first-grader whose class studied Mary Bethune-Cookman.
Curcelia Collins, an assistant principal at the school, said the annual program allows students to reach into history and find issues which resonate with the pupils. In some cases, teachers had their students study someone who would force the youngsters to step outside their comfort zones.
Joel Richards, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, had his students study Louis Armstrong in order to expose them to jazz.
"He was a good role model for kids, because he was an ambassador by going all over the world with his trumpet," Richards said.
Kindergartners ,Tolu Ayantunji and Mauricio Cruz, said their class studied Major League Baseball (MLB) pioneer Jackie Robinson. Ayantunji talked about how many people did not think Robinson would be a good baseball player because of his skin color. When he was asked who won in the end, after Robinson's Rookie of Year and Player of the Year honors in his first two seasons, Ayantunji exclaimed "the Dodgers!"
Cruz said he and his classmates learned a valuable lesson about life from studying Robinson's career, and how the baseball legend ignored his critics.
"It tells me he didn't give up, and I shouldn't, either," Cruz said.