Watson Chronicle

WATSON COLLEGE OF EDUCATION

Student Opportunities and Student News

Teachers from Ferguson, MO Share Experiences with WCE Faculty, Students

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Teachers from Ferguson, MO Share Experiences with WCE Faculty

The St. Louis suburb of Ferguson was in the national media spotlight for weeks following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in August. Ferguson-Florissant School District elementary school teachers Kim Berry and Cassandra Clark discussed the impact that weeks of civil unrest have had on students and teachers during an event hosted by the college on Oct. 22.

Susan Catapano, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership at WCE and a former University of Missouri faculty member, introduced the guests. Both are teachers at Bermuda Elementary School, located just blocks away from the events that have captivated the nation’s attention. Berry is a kindergarten teacher and Clark teaches fourth grade.

Berry and Clark shared their personal experiences with Watson College faculty and students. Berry said the shooting and public outcry that followed significantly disrupted the start of the school year. The shooting occurred right after Back-to-School night, and subsequent riots and civil unrest caused school closures for nearly two weeks. Teachers were concerned because summer feeding programs had ended and many of the students at the Title I school eat breakfast and lunch at school. Teachers noted several people got together and started a food program to help feed the community while they waited for school to open.

A full-day professional development workshop was held to prepare teachers to help students’ transition to school and help those suffering from anxiety. Teachers at Bermuda Elementary also started a Facebook page and made “Welcome Back” signs and “I Love Ferguson” T-shirts to encourage the students when the school year finally began. 

“We wanted to get the kids back to some normalcy as quickly as possible,” Berry said.

Clark and Berry said the students have adjusted well, but teachers have fielded many questions from parents wanting to know how the school will explain recent events to the children and handle situations that could potentially occur.

Berry has not formally discussed the events with her kindergarten students, but Clark encouraged her fourth graders to explore issues of civil rights and racism, using Martin Luther King for historical perspective in considering the events in Ferguson.

“It’s a current event so we have to address it,” she said. “I’m trying to use this as a learning opportunity and to approach it in a neutral way.”

Asked about the accuracy of the media portrayal of events, the teachers said stories of the rioting and protests were exaggerated.

“The violence was not as widespread as many people believe,” Berry said. “The rioting was confined to a two or three block area. Now, protests are small and they are peaceful.”

One positive outcome has been a community outreach effort by the local police department, the teachers said. Officers who previously only came to school for the D.A.R.E. program with fifth graders are now reaching out to students of all ages.

“They are working pro-actively to build relationships with students,” Berry said. “They come to school, talk with the children and eat lunch with them. The students see that the police are there to protect them and to serve the community. That has been wonderful.”

Donyell Roseboro, chair of the Department of Instructional Technology, Foundations and Secondary Education (ITFSE), Kathy Fox, chair of the Department of Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, Literacy and Special Education (EEMLS) and WCE associate deans Carol McNulty and Ann Potts assisted Catapano in organizing the event.