El Camino High School campus

Civil Rights Icon Ruby Bridges Surprises SSFUSD Students with Unannounced, In-Person Visit on Second Annual Statewide Observance of Ruby Bridges Day

After Ruby Bridges dropped in unannounced to celebrate Ruby Bridges Day in South San Francisco Unified School District on November 14, 2022, the students of Martin Elementary School serenaded her by singing Rachel Platten's "Better Place". More than 325,000 students across 47 states walked to school in observance of #RubyBridgesWalktoSchoolDay 2022.
Show Transcript
Civil Rights icon Ruby Bridges made an unannounced, in-person appearance at Martin Elementary in South San Francisco Unified School District (SSFUSD) during the school’s annual celebration and observance of Ruby Bridges Day on November 14, 2022. The occasion was also the second annual statewide observance of Ruby Bridges Day in California. 
“Look what you started,” Bridges said, addressing the Martin Elementary student body during a schoolwide assembly. “See the power of one person.” 
In response to her visit, the students serenaded Bridges by singing Rachel Platten’s “Better Place.” 
Bridges went on to recall how, as a six-year-old in 1960, her teacher Barbara Henry supported her during the turbulence accompanying the integration of William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
“When I was six when this happened to me, I had a very, very special teacher. Her name is Barbara Henry,” said Bridges. “We made friends when I was six-years-old, and she’s still alive, and she’s still my best friend.”
Henry was the only teacher at William Frantz Elementary willing to teach Bridges, and she was forced to teach Ruby as the only student in her classroom for more than a year due to lingering discrimination.
“There was a time when I really didn’t have any friends,” Bridges said, getting emotional, “and all I wanted was a friend; it didn’t matter to me what they looked like. I just wanted someone to be there to play with, and I know that you guys know what that feels like sometimes, and now we’ve started making friends all over the world, because you started this day.” 
During the 2017-18 school year, students in Mrs. Deborah Carlino’s fifth grade class at Martin Elementary learned about Ruby Bridges during African-American History Month. 
According to Carlino, her class of fifth graders that year wanted to find a way to recognize Bridges’ contributions. 
“I asked Mrs. Carlino do we have a day to celebrate Ruby Bridges,” said Madeline Popielak, a fifth grader during the 2017-18 school year who is now a sophomore at South San Francisco High School. 
When Madeline and her classmates discovered there was none, they decided to start a petition to establish one.
“So they [the students] went out and collected over 1,000 signatures,” said Carlino. “They took these signatures, and they went before the school board in South San Francisco, and they requested that every November 14 would be Ruby Bridges Day, and it was unanimously voted through.” 
The next year, the students took their petition to the City of South San Francisco and the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE) with similar results. Then in 2021 California State Senator Josh Becker sponsored a resolution to make Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day a statewide observance.
In 2022, more than 325,00 students in 47 states across the country participated in Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day on November 14, the date that Bridges first entered William Frantz Elementary School in the company of U.S. marshals.
Ruby Bridges surprises students including South City High sophomore Maddie Popielak, who as a fifth grader at Martin Elementary School helped jump start the Ruby Bridges Day movement, during SSFUSD’s annual Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day celebrations on November 14, 2022.