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Ferguson Students Return to Class

By Nick Jones, CEI Intern

The community is doing its best to create normalcy for students in Ferguson, MO, the St. Louis suburb that erupted in violence after the shooting death of Michael Brown.

With the first day of school pushed back a week due to unrest in the greater Ferguson area, the students have been some of the most vulnerable citizens affected by the chaos. Fortunately, community members and people around the world have stepped in to help. With the quick thinking of Julianna Mendelsohn, a teacher from Raleigh, NC, and starter of the #FeedFerguson Fundly campaign, and donations from people around the world, more than $154 thousand dollars have been raised to help the St. Louis Area Food Bank feed children in the area. In the 2011-2012 school year alone, 66 percent of students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District received free or reduced lunch, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a unique role in providing food stability for nearly two-thirds of its students.

Additionally, improvised classes were held at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library last week. Starting with only 12 participants on Monday, Aug. 18, teachers and volunteers saw more than 160 students show up on Thursday. Teachers planned lessons and provided arts and crafts for students.

In preparation for the first day of school yesterday, officials added 25 counselors, doubling the amount of counselors originally hired to help students. Accordingly, the school district trained approximately 2,200 staff in crisis management. The program, called RISE Training ‘“ response, intervention, support, and education, will give teachers and other staff that work directly with students, tools to identify student anxieties and address them. The school district has also expanded bus routes to ensure more students get to school safely.

While the events in Ferguson escalated quickly, return to normalcy will be anything but. However, subtle and nuanced approaches to creating a positive dynamic will help students move forward. In another community outreach endeavor to boost morale, the St. Louis Rams invited three Ferguson area high school football teams to practice at their facility.

Aside from efforts in the greater St. Louis area to restore comfort to students, teachers and parents around the country are discussing how to talk about Ferguson with youth. Using the hashtag #fergusonsyllabus, educators are creating lists of topics to discuss. Ideas circulating the Internet range from talking about the Missouri Compromise to discussing racial violence history in the United States. Opening such dialogue with students will allow them to express their ideas and opinions without diving straight into such a sensitive topic.

The unrest in Ferguson is a reminder that there is a teachable moment in everything we do. The community is working hard to reaffirm the school as an institution for not only learning but equally important, safety and stability. In the coming weeks and months, educators and families will reestablish the sense of access, safety, and community that students need to succeed.

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