Ferguson’s schools, along with others in the surrounding area, have had to cancel classes as a result of the sometimes violent protests taking place in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. Ferguson’s teachers, however, are still working to make sure the city’s children are being taken care of.
This week, teachers have been volunteering — cleaning up streets, passing out lunches to students, and teaching classes in the Ferguson Municipal Library.
Many of the students in the Ferguson-Florissant District, as well as the neighboring Jennings District, walk to school, either right through or near where the nightly demonstrations are taking place.
“Our students have no busses in the district — we walk to school — so as a safety concern, our children come first,” special education teacher Miya Moore told NPR. Instead of staying home after classes were cancelled, 150 local teachers took to the streets on Tuesday morning, picking up the tear gas canisters, broken glass, and whatever else might be left after the previous night’s protests.
“It says ‘Defense Technology’ on it,” social studies teacher Arthur Vambaketes said, holding a busted tear gas canister.
The majority of the students in Jennings live below the poverty line and rely on free and reduced meals from school. Teachers in the district have organized to make sure that they still have access to those lunches, including delivering meals to those students with special needs who are unable to pick them up from the school.
“We’re building up the community,” said Jennings’ superintendent Tiffany Anderson. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual. Last week, I met with students … and we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.”
In addition to lunch, teachers are trying to make sure students have somewhere to go during the day, providing much needed child care for many parents with limited other options.
Carrie Pace, an art teacher in Ferguson, reached out to other teachers to see if she could put together programs for the kids at the city’s library. The first day started slow, with just 12 children showing up. By Thursday, though, they had 60 volunteers and around 150 kids. The response was so large they started using space in a nearby church.
“We’ve essentially taken over the library,” acting principal Antona Smith told NBC News. “They’re having full academics and teachers are coming with full curricula ready to teach!”
Volunteers from Teach for America showed up to help, and local food banks and residents of the community started dropping off food so the students would have breakfast and lunch.
“There’s just been an outpouring of support,” Pace said. “I had someone call me from Michigan and say, ‘What can I send to you?’”
Ferguson schools are scheduled to start Monday, and Pace said she’s happy to provide a place where the kids can learn.
“I hope that it’s healing in some way,” she said. “If nothing else, I think it is a total breath of fresh air for the kids who can be here.”