The Ruby Bridges School of Community Service & Social Justice

The history of William Frantz Elementary reflects the larger changes that have occurred in the city of New Orleans over the last fifty years. The school, once an example of successful school integration, became segregated again- this time for black students only. Today the building, though listed in the National Registry of Historic Places due largely to the efforts of Ruby, is in a state of horrific disrepair due to severe wind and flooding damage from Hurricane Katrina. Controlled by the Recovery School District (RSD) , it has been unoccupied since the storm but is undergoing a complete renovation and enlargement to 21st century standards of educational adequacy over the next two years using using more than $20 million in FEMA funds.

The foundation’s primary initiative is to create a school in the William Frantz Elementary building that will serve as a model for integration and equity in education. It will create a learning environment that brings children together so that they can do what previous generations have not been able to do: embrace our racial and cultural differences so that we can move forward. The mission of the Ruby Bridges School of Community Service & Social Justice (RBS) is to educate leaders for the 21st century who are committed to social justice, community service, equality, racial healing and nonviolence. Ruby and her foundation have worked with the RSD planners to support their work in this project.

“The school will feature a social justice curriculum that focuses on history, civil rights, civic engagement,  leadership development, and service learning.”

A charter application for the proposed high achieving school to be housed in the William Frantz building will be filed in 2011. The Board of the Louisiana Ruby Bridges Foundation will serve as the school’s governing board, setting policy, approving budgets, hiring and supervising the RBS School Leader, monitoring performance, advocating for the school and its mission, and raising funds. The School Leader will manage the operation of the school, implement the curriculum, and hire and evaluate its personnel. Both the Board and the School Leader will be assisted by various advisory committees of staff, parents, students, and community members.

Vision - The vision of the RBS is to serve as the premier, integrated educational institution for  community service and social justice in the greater New Orleans area. The high-achieving school would serve students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. Similar to the international school models, RBS will be open to all eligible students regardless of race, color, creed, income, or disability. RBS will encourage a diverse mixture of students possessing these characteristics to apply for admission. In order to give each student the experience of learning within an even more diverse student body, regular school activities will be supplemented by partnering with other schools of different demographics locally or through distance learning. The number of students in each grade-level will be kept small to ensure that every student receives the tools they need to be successful at school. Through an affiliations with local universities, students would receive guidance and assistance as they prepare for the college admissions process with the goal of achieving 100% college attendance. .

Facilities – In terms of the facilities, preserving the school’s historic exterior is important, but the inside of the school will be completely updated. A school to train the leaders of the 21st century must have modern technology and infrastructure. The school would include an extensive civil rights library, along with comprehensive creative arts and physical education amenities.

Curriculum – In addition to the core academic subjects aligned with Louisiana’s academic standards, the high performing school will feature a social justice curriculum that focuses on history, civil rights, civic engagement,  leadership development, and service learning. The curriculum will include a balance between student-centered and teacher-directed learning. Teachers will be trained in the components of project-based learning, and rigorous and authentic learning activities will be designed to engage students and develop their critical thinking and collaborative skills. Learning units and assessments will emphasize content mastery, critical thinking, and written and oral communication.  Active listening and respect for others will be taught from the earliest grades, while older students will gain first-hand experience with problem solving, conflict resolution, service learning, and community development. Underpinning the social justice curriculum will be an in-depth and critical study of history designed to train students to analyze the past and contextualize the present.

People – Finally, people will be paramount to the school’s success. Faculty and staff will be carefully selected based on their experience and commitment to social justice, civil rights, and leadership development. The school will also feature a comprehensive human capital strategy to provide extensive professional development for teachers. Supporting and retaining high quality, dedicated educators will be a key priority for school administrators. Students and their families will also play an integral role by sustaining the vision of the school and actively participating in decision-making through the advisory board. Partnerships with businesses and nonprofits will also be cultivated to provide wraparound social services to students.