Students in Ferguson, Mo., had planned to begin the school year on August 14, but now classes have been delayed until (at least) Monday, Aug. 25, in response to safety concerns.
The district made its decision in response to the ongoing, escalating protests of the Ferguson police department after an officer shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, on August 9. My colleague Denisa R. Superville has more coverage of the district’s decision over at District Dossier.
But as with snow days, heat days, and other days that force schools to unexpectedly close, many of the students go without the benefit of school-subsidized meals. That particularly hurts children in places like Ferguson, which, according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau data, has an unemployment rate of about 13 percent. One in four residents lives below the poverty line, and just under half the population lives below twice that level.
To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go.
“As the world watches the events unfolding in Ferguson, many people have thought ‘how can I help?’. As a public school teacher, my first thought is always about the children involved in any tragic situation like this,” Mendelsohn writes on her campaign’s page.
Teachers in Ferguson, meanwhile, have been doing their own public service. According to NPR, 150 area teachers have participated in a clean-up of the damaged community, organized by Jennings superintendent Tiffany Anderson.
‘We like to tell kids we’re a lifeline. And that’s really the message that we’re giving today. We’re a lifeline. And everyone in this community is a lifeline,’ superintendent Anderson says.
The students in the area, meanwhile, are getting a crash course in civics. Many are participating in protests of the police, which community members accuse of creating a racially hostile community. That climate is reflected in the schools, too, where black students are disproportionately suspended in comparison to white students.
In areas of the country where schools are beginning on time, meanwhile, some curricula may be worth revisiting:
If I’m a Social Studies teacher, I throw away my first two weeks of curriculum and discuss what’s happening in #Ferguson.
-- jasoncollette (@jasoncollette) August 14, 2014
On Teaching Tolerance’s blog, June Cara Christian, a teaching and learning specialist who once taught in the district where Michael Brown attended school, argues that the events in Ferguson speak to an urgent need for schools to go beyond social studies per se and teach racial understanding and compassion for peers:
Students across the country are beginning a new school year. Some will mature into law enforcement officers, healthcare professionals, service industry workers and civil employees. Educators have a unique opportunity to begin bridging the social chasms that divide us by fostering honest dialogue with these future adults. Schools can become the places where students learn to interrogate racial biases—and any biases—to restore our collective humanity.
Image: People march Monday evening in Ferguson, Mo., as protests continued in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer on Aug. 9. —Charlie Riedel/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.