Vida Day began her education career in a rural one-room schoolhouse, one grade ahead before she arrived and two ahead after barely crossing the threshold.
"I wanted to be a teacher," says Vida, "from the time I could read. I started reading early."
Day, 92, retired from teaching in the Little Rock School District after 38 years in 1989. After she retired, she taught part time at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and tutored students in math.
Day was 4 years old when her sister, then 6, went to a school where first through eighth grades met in the same classroom.
"When she started my dad went to the library and got me some books because I wanted to do what she did," Day says.
Day and her siblings were raised by her father, following the illness and death of her mother.
"My brother was 1, I was 3 and my sister was 5 and my mother was sick and in the hospital and never came home. My dad raised three children," she says. "He was a minister and he farmed so he could take care of us. He was actually a sharecropper."
When Day turned 5, her sister's teacher invited her to start first grade one year early. Day won a spelling bee made up of first-, second- and third-graders, and was thus promoted to second grade.
"I was 6 in the third grade," she says.
The family moved to Vilonia schools the next year, and in spite of her academic prowess, it was decided she should remain in fourth grade.
"I was a tiny thing. I spent two years in fourth grade, which was the best thing that ever happened to me," she says.
In high school, during her study hall periods, she worked with a third-grade class, reinforcing her desire to teach.
"I went to college in three years and came out without a debt," says Day, who got her bachelor's degree at Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas, in Conway.
She taught first in Brinkley and, in 1951, went to work at Westside Junior High School. She later taught at Central High School.
When Parkview High School opened in 1968, she started teaching there.
"I taught math for two years and then went in as assistant principal but I still taught math classes for a few years," she says. "Teaching was my love, of course. I loved to teach school."
While at Parkview, she received a scholarship to learn about computer science at Stanford University.
"It was a Shell scholarship," she says. "I was the one selected from Arkansas. I went for 8 weeks of study."
She completed master's degrees at the University of Arkansas and Central Michigan University.
"I became a specialist in teaching algebra," she says.
On summer breaks, Day traveled.
"I didn't have much money but a friend and I would take a backpack and go to Europe and travel," she says. "I've been to Japan -- to Hiroshima -- and I climbed Mt. Fuji once. And I went to Glacier Park one time, too. I was 81 or 82. They divided us into groups and I didn't want to go with the seniors. I went with the one that climbed the mountain."
In 2013, she traveled to China with her brother, who got very sick on the trip. She spent four weeks with him while he was hospitalized.
"The nurses were so great to me. One of the nurses was from a farm and she was from a family of six or seven," says Day, who asked about the one-child policy in the country at the time. "She said if you lived on the farm you could have more children because you needed the labor. This is the nice thing about travel -- you learn all about people."
Day and her family managed to take her brother back to the United States for further treatment, but he died in July of that year.
At UALR, Day trained math teachers, and she began tutoring children at Brady Elementary.
"I have never worked so hard in my life as I did when I tried to learn how to teach the little ones," she says. "I worked with a fifth-grade class, with a wonderful teacher, until the pandemic stopped us, and then they wouldn't let us come anymore."
Also until the pandemic she worked with children in an after-school program at the Church at Rock Creek.
"Last year I helped deliver bags to Feed Arkansas Kids, Church at Rock Creek has a big program, and I helped deliver bags on the weekends to McDermott [Elementary]," she says. "Then I had a fall and I've been unable to drive and unload the bags and all that."
She enjoys reading historical fiction and working puzzles, and she loves following the Razorbacks. She enjoys spending time with concentric circles of friends -- those she met through teaching, those she met through church or volunteering, and those she met through other friends.
"I think just making friends and staying active let me go and do more. My life," says Day, "has been teaching and traveling and learning."
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