Over the past summer, Katrin Heeg, English teacher at Gymnasium Riedberg High School in Frankfurt, Germany, introduced her advanced 8th grade English students to the story of the Little Rock Nine to increase their understanding of social justice and to encourage them to have empathy and understanding for others.
Initially, German students Carina Loffler and Dena Zandnia, both 14, “weren’t really interested” in learning about the nine black students who were central figures in the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School.
But that changed once the two delved deeper into their research. Loffler and Zandnia were particularly drawn to Melba Pattillo Beals and decided to focus on her experiences.
The duo, seeking to learn more about Mrs. Beals, had several questions including how she was chosen to integrate Little Rock Central High, how she felt on the first day of school, and how she feels now when she thinks about the past.
The students reached out to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity where Institute staff directed them to resources that could answer their questions.
Loffler and Zandnia’s research project culminated in a class presentation that impressed their fellow students and teacher. In the end, Loffler and Zandnia said they were glad they undertook the project because, “we think it is important for students to learn about what happened in 1957 and the progress that’s been made since then.”