Ferguson-Florissant School District

School's out ... past summer

FergusonSchool [polldaddy poll=8256736]

Hundreds of kids are getting an extended summer break in Ferguson, Missouri.

It's not a break they want.

While teenagers in other communities may openly scoff at the notion that Ferguson has yet to come off of summer break, the sentiment among most kids here is that, indeed, they are ready to go back to school.

Allisha and A'Nais, both 9, attend Johnson Wabash Elementary School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

Both took advantage of the open library time this week made available when school officials felt compelled to cancel classes until at least next week due to the unrest in Ferguson connected to the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown. Brown died during an altercation with Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

School was actually supposed to start the week before. But was pushed back. And back. And back again.

And while the adults outside of the library work to calm the community, the children inside have a simple message - open school back up.

"Sitting at home is boring," Allisha said, the room around her buzzing with creative and artistic energy.

Added A'Nais, "I hate it. I would rather be in school to learn."

These are canned answers during a media blitz interview, either. These are the most candid of thoughts from the residents of Ferguson and surrounding areas that are the most affected by the turmoil.

"I went to a rally and it's not as bad as it looks on the news," Allisha said. "This is not a bad town. They have parties for us to go to."

Indeed, Ferguson does much to encourage health play and children's activities.

The city has been named to the Playful City USA program - four times, more than any other city in Missouri. The awards go to cities that take bold steps to ensure that children have easy access to a balance of active play in their communities.

Amairis, 11, is having a blast at the library on this particular day, making braids and bracelets. But she, too, misses school. And she has a most poignant message for those out on the streets.

"I want them to sit down and talk it out," she said, a smile replaced on her face with seriousness.

Teachers and parents alike would like nothing more. Dr. Gloria and Laura, who helped bring kids in from the street corner to the library, said there is a definite void in the community with school out. And it reaches other communities, too, as the Ferguson-Florissant School District reaches into Berkeley, Florissant and touches other areas.

"We're confused, sad, kind of resigned," said Laura, a 24-year resident in North County and a 13-year teacher in the district. Gloria said not being in school is "disorienting."

"The dialogue needs to start and healing needs to begin," Laura said. "Public opinion is overriding the process."

This is Ferguson ... right here

[polldaddy poll=8255793][polldaddy poll=8255793] Janeatha Evans and her daughter used to live in the Canfield Green Apartments.

She's lived in Ferguson, Missouri, for five years now, having moved from another location in North County.

And on this day, she joins a dozen parents, grandparents, teachers and more than 60 children at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library to bring some normalcy to their lives.

Evans, like many in Ferguson, are adamant about what their community is. And what it is not.

"It's not this," Evans said, quickly adding, "This is Ferguson ... right here."

Evans moves her hands about as if to encompass the entire room of education and opportunity. And in every way, she's right. Ferguson, at a little over 21,000 residents, may be two-thirds black. And it may have a disproportionate amount of white-to-black police officers. But on this day, in this library, everyone colors, plays, talks and sits side-by-side while anger brews a mile away.

Evans worries about her daughter and her future in the community, as it relates to police, specifically.

"She's scared of cops; I don't want her to be," Evans said.

Outside influences have hampered so many parts of this process that those dug into the community feel like their sense of themselves is slipping away.

Many news outlets, including Fox News, are reporting that of the 78 people arrested Aug. 18 during protests on W. Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, only four were from that town, with many showing IDs from Illinois and Texas.

Dr. Gloria has been a teacher in the area for 50 years, many as a vocal instructor in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. She and a fellow teacher helping at the library, Laura, were out front ushering in neighborhood kids to a learning environment graciously offered up by the public library and organized by Carrie Pace and many volunteers.

Gloria says there is too much outside influence.

"President Obama, now Eric Holder is coming...it's too much," she said. "Has it really come to that?"

Added, Laura, "All of the sudden we don't know how to handle ourselves?"

Sandy Jablonski, a Ferg-Flor aide in attendance with her granddaughter, Grace, has lived in Ferguson since 1981, with all four kids going through the schools.

"We've been through tornadoes and picked up, cleaned up after that," she said.

Evans is ready to take back her city.

"It's not a thing about black and white," she says. "This is a community thing."

The library of solace

The kids have names. Identities. All of them. They miss school. They know what's going on outside, perhaps not the gravity of it all. But they know one thing: school isn't in session and something is awry in the community.

Bearing name tags that read Allisha, Jorge, Bobby, A'Nais, Holly and Jarvon, each sits at an 8-foot table, piecing together jewelry from beads and glitter, or doing science projects with balloons, or quietly putting together a 250-piece puzzle.

Inside the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, things make much more sense than they do a few blocks away.

Here, at 35 North Florissant, learning is the norm, respect is wagered at each table and West Florissant seems a world away.

Just as it should.

If I've learned anything about educators during my many years of education, it's this: they will not stand for complacency.

School's called off for another week in the Ferguson-Florissant School District? Fine. Let's move them to the library, says Mrs. Carrie Pace.

Pace is a fourth year, K-6 Art teacher at Walnut Grove Elementary.

When chaos took over several streets in a town she teachers, she countered with calmness.

And, admittedly, a few tears.

"I went to the library and, maybe, got one sentence out and I was in tears," Pace said through a wide smile. "And he said, 'Absolutely.'"

"He" was Scott Bonner, the library administrator, who gracefully handed over a large conference room for use for all children, no matter where they are from, to use and learn in until life - at least for the residents 6-18 years old, their parents and all educators - gets back to some sense of normalcy.

Pace, all 5-foot of her, is a force in the room. She bounces from table to table, helping with projects, answer questions and taking in a steady stream of media that have finally found the story outside of the riotous streets.

Through the district's Facebook page, Parents For Peace pages and social media tags and right down to teachers holding signs on the streets, Pace was determined to get kids in Ferg-Flor out of their houses and into an educational environment.

The community is richer for people like Pace, Bonner and the kids that are taking the time to do something with their spare time.

And when the school bell rings again, they will be ready to get back to that setting as well.