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Kentucky Educator Gives Student a Lift

Kentucky educator Jim Freeman helps a student who uses a wheelchair join a school hiking trip.
Ryan Neighbors and science teacher Jim Freeman

In September 2019, educators at Tully Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., planned a school hiking trip to the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Known for its 390-million-year-old fossil beds and shaded walking trails, the state park—which borders Indiana and Kentucky—is a popular field-trip destination.   This hike, however, was not accessible to 10-year-old Ryan Neighbors, who has spina bifida— a birth defect affecting the spinal cord—and uses a wheelchair. Ryan had missed out on the trip the previous year.

When science teacher Jim Freeman, a member of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, heard Ryan’s mom was planning to carry her daughter on the hike, he stepped in and offered Ryan a piggyback ride.

Freeman carried the fourth grader on his back all day, so she was able to explore and learn about the fossil beds with her classmates.

“This is just one physical act that you can see, but we do this countless times throughout the school day and throughout the year,” Freeman said to a local television station. “All the teachers here at Tully and [Jefferson County Public Schools], they work harder than most people realize.”  

Ryan Neighbors (center) with her personal assistant Nancy Bickers and science teacher Jim Freeman. The two worked to ensure that Ryan could participate in a school hiking trip.

“When I got to see the fossils and stuff, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s like, really cool. I haven’t gotten to see that before.’”

—Ryan Neighbors as told to WLKY-TV in Louisville, KY.

National Education Association

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.