7-year-old pushes educational app to include diverse hairstyles

One girl is showing that anyone can make change happen.

In early April, Kelley Anne Joyner, 34, noticed one of her students, Morgan Bugg, looking upset during class on Zoom.

“She was crying and just kind of looked frustrated,” Joyner, a first grade teacher at Edmondson Elementary School in Brentwood, Tennessee, told “Good Morning America.” “So I went into a private room with her, and I just talked to her and asked what was wrong.”

The source of Morgan’s frustration was the lack of hairstyle options on a gamified educational app called Freckle. To assist with students’ virtual learning, Joyner made use of Freckle, which awards students coins after they complete a learning activity. Students can then redeem the coins in the app’s store to customize their animal avatar.

“I wanted to change my hairstyle,” Morgan told “GMA.” “I was really upset when they didn’t have what I wanted.”

PHOTO: Morgan Bugg, 7, from Brentwood, Tennessee, convinced the educational app Freckle to include Black hairstyles in its avatar options.

According to Joyner, Morgan took matters into her own hands and mentioned that they should contact the app.

“I just kind of asked her, ‘I totally understand. You have every right to be upset, but things aren’t going to get changed unless we make change, so what can we do?'” Joyner said. “She actually came up with the idea to contact them.”

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In an April 6 email to Freckle, Joyner wrote, “One of my students was so sad the other day and I asked her why and she said, ‘Well I’m sad because there isn’t Black girl hair for me to choose.’ I told her I would reach out and see if we could get it added.”

Accompanying the message was a photo of Morgan holding up drawings she did of different hairstyles.

“Morgan said, ‘Maybe they just don’t even know what Black girl hair looks like, so I’m just going to draw them some pictures,'” Joyner recalled.

PHOTO: Morgan Bugg, 7, from Brentwood, Tennessee, holding up four hairstyle options she drew for Freckle.

When Joyner received an automated response back, she figured that was the end of that but still hoped they would respond. Two weeks later on April 20, a Freckle support specialist replied.

“We have some fantastic news for you and your students,” they wrote. “Our product team recently added more hairstyles to the Piggy Store based directly on your feedback!”

The email came during class, so Joyner messaged Morgan privately on Zoom and told her to check the app’s store.

“Her face just lit up, she was so excited,” she said. “I was almost in tears. … I was just thinking, this little girl has no idea of the impact that she’s made.”

“I feel good,” Morgan said.

PHOTO: A screenshot of the Freckle app with some of the newly added hairstyles.

“We’re very proud of Morgan — that she spoke up about something that she saw that needed to be fixed,” Dr. Maya Bugg, Morgan’s mother, told “GMA.” “It ended up impacting children across the country indefinitely.”

In addition to more hairstyles, Freckle now lets users change their avatar’s skin and hair colors and offers a wheelchair, additional wig options and head coverings for students who prefer not to show their hair.

“It’s unfortunate that a 7-year-old had to be the person to bring this to the attention of a national company in 2021,” Bugg, 39, said. “But I was glad they responded and that they took action to rectify it.”

In a statement to “GMA,” Linda Germain, vice president of marketing at Renaissance — the company behind Freckle — said, “Our goal is to provide an inclusive user experience that represents all students. When one of our students requested we add additional hairstyles, with more diverse options, our design team went to work right away.”

Germain also confirmed plans for further customization, such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant, and more career-based items.

Bugg said Joyner is a great example of how teachers can be advocates for their students rather than brushing off their concerns.

“I appreciate Ms. Joyner very much,” she said. “I think that’s how teachers should respond to kids. You have to listen to kids, you have to hear their feelings but also be their advocate and work on their behalf outside of the classroom.”

“You would hope that all of your teachers would go that extra mile for their students,” Trent Satterfield, the school’s principal, told “GMA.” “But I thought it was really special that Kelley Anne not only took that next step and emailed Freckle, but that she brought Morgan along for the ride and made sure that she empowered Morgan to be a part of that change.”

Joyner stressed that the most important thing was letting Morgan lead the charge.

“At the end of the day I could’ve overlooked it and said, ‘It is what it is,'” Joyner said. “But it also irked me as well. In this day and age, we need to make some change. But it’s not going to change if we don’t say anything, so what’s the hurt in trying?”

She continued, “I was just there to help guide her. Morgan Bugg is not done making change in the world, and I’m excited to see all that she’ll accomplish.”

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