Teachers making a difference

Teachers making a difference

The Source Newspaper

Twenty years ago, two teachers from Franklin Jr. High had a dream. They were discussing their classes: Mr. Gray was a civics teacher currently studying civil rights, while Mr. Smith’s music appreciation class was learning about Elvis Presley. They decided to combine their classes into a longer class period and do something really fun and educational. Their combined studies took them to the Underground Railroad and later they took the classes to a play at Sangamon State University. The next idea was to recreate the famous March to Memphis. The students made signs and marched for eight miles from Alexander to Franklin, chanting about equal rights.

The results were astounding and students were really engaged. The teachers decided to keep things going; they thought, “What if we really took the students to Memphis?” — and so the idea was born. They decided on two main rules:

1. The school district would not be expected to foot the bill.

2. No student would be left behind because of finances.

Students and the teachers got busy raising funds. The first year, they raised the needed $10,000 all by individual donations. Their most famous donation came that year when then Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois donated.

The trips go somewhat as follows: a chartered bus leaves the school parking lot at 4 a.m. on Friday morning and stops for the first time at a rest area by St. Louis where they stretch their legs and eat donuts for breakfast. By noon they arrive at Mud Island and then go to The Arcade Restaurant for lunch. The afternoon is spent at the National Civil Rights Museum, where students sit on a bus seat like Rosa Parks and see the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. When they leave the museum, they check into their rooms at the Guest House before heading for Beale Street. Bright and early Saturday morning, they check out of the hotel and after have a breakfast tour of Graceland. Next comes Sun Studios, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and the Memphis Hall of Fame. Saturday evening, the students board the bus one final time for the trip home where they arrive early Sunday morning.

Almost everyone that has attended Franklin Jr. High since 1999 has made the trip. This year marks the eleventh time for the trip, which, is every odd-numbered year. Many things have changed, some places have closed and others have sprung up. This year, the bus line that is always used is out of business. Mr. Gray no longer teaches at Franklin, as now it is Mr. Bonjean who teaches civics and history. There is no longer time to see the Peabody Ducks. We still assign four students per room and bring our own snacks to keep cost down but prices are always rising.

We have three business sponsors, the Tracy Family Foundation of DOT Foods from Mt. Sterling, Walmart in Jacksonville’s Community Grant Program and the Education Grant Giving program from Shopko in Jacksonville. Thanks to these sponsors, our fundraising needs have remained steady at $10,000 per trip.

The biennial march took place on Thursday, March 28. If you would like to participate in future years, please email Rick Smith at rsmith@franklinhigh.com.

Donations to the program should be made payable to Franklin Jr. High March to Memphis and mailed to Rick Smith at Franklin School, 110 State St., Franklin, IL 62638.

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