Five-year-old Rasiyah Buckley was eager to show off her “first day” outfit as she walked to the rear entrance of Griffith Elementary.
Rasiyah wore her black slippers adorned with a rim of white jewels, black jeans, a belted blue shirt, and last but not least, a smile under her head of cascading braids with pride.
And Rasiyah’s mother, Jessica Dunkins, 29, is happy Rasiyah finally has a chance to wear the clothing to school.
In spite of the recent unrest of the Ferguson community — with the burial of Michael Brown, the teen who was fatally shot in an incident involving Ferguson police, happening on Monday — Jana Shortt, director of communications and marketing for the Ferguson-Florissant School District (FFSD), said the district is prepared to receive its students.
Last week, the FFSD’s 2,000 employees participated in the Response, Intervention, Support and Education crisis training, so they would be better prepared to meet students’ emotional needs.
Besides the district’s normal staff of counselors, Great Circle therapists were also there on Day 1 to lend a helping hand.
“Well, what we are hoping to provide here is a sense of normalcy, getting back to school is something students and staff are ready for,” Shortt said. “There will be talks with children and conversation will be taking place in class. The district will be here to have those conversations.”
According to Shortt, Griffith Elementary, located at 200 Day Drive in Ferguson, was home to about 383 students last year. She said 93 percent of its students last year were African American and 4.4 percent were Caucasian. Griffith is closest to the area hardest hit by looting and protests following the fatal shooting of Brown.
Still, Dunkins isn’t uneasy about her daughter’s safety.
“It has died down a lot,” Dunkins said, referring to the violence.
Since school was delayed, Dunkins attempted to teach Rasiyah at home.
“I have her help me match socks when I do the laundry, and as we walk to the store tell me the colors of buildings and the letters on the signs,” she said. “Little things like that.”
Classes in the Ferguson-Florissant School District were initially scheduled to start Aug. 14th. Due to concerns about students walking to school or waiting for buses in the midst of continued community unrest, though, school officials postponed opening its doors to Aug. 14th, Aug. 18th, and the remainder of last week.
Besides Griffith, other FFSD schools located in Ferguson include Central Elementary, Johnson-Wabash Elementary, Lee-Hamilton Elementary, Vogt Elementary, Walnut Grove Elementary, Ferguson Middle School, and McCluer South-Berkeley High. The district’s Challenger Learning Center, which provides science and space education to students in the FFSD and beyond, is also located in Ferguson.
On Monday, the district announced that Aug. 25th would be the new day for classes to begin for its more than 11,000 students.
Asked if she was sad about the first day of school being delayed so much, Rasiyah said “No, because I’m always happy.”
Frances Hollis, 30, said it is hard to describe her feelings.
“I’m not so much happy or sad,” Hollis said. “I am happy about the start of school, but I am also nervous.
Hollis, who lives near the Dellwood Police Station, said she isn’t taking anything for granted, though, “I ought to feel safe – because I live across from the police station – but I don’t.”
Hollis has heard glass shattering and shooting during some of the looting and protests. She noticed that as businesses near her were broken in to, police would disperse one group of looters and others causing disturbances, but as soon as police left — other looters would come in their place.
The district implemented a special plan to ensure the safety of neighborhood children traveling to Griffith by expanding its bus service. That means even students who live less than a mile away could ride buses to school.
See photos of Ferguson here:
Hollis decided to take responsibility for making sure her children Deyontey Clark, a sixth-grader; KeShawn Johnson, a third-grader; and Aliyah Hollis, a second-grader, arrived safely to school herself, passing on the bus ride and walking her children to school.
Part of that decision might have been influenced by Hollis’ desire to explain what her children would see as they traveled their neighborhood.
“I have to explain why the Walgreens that we go to all the time is boarded up, and I have to explain to them that people came in from outside the community and destroyed things and that they did things the wrong way.
“I have to explain that they are not hurting the Ferguson Police Department, but they are hurting the single parents, elderly people, and kids who live here who are going to have to pay for all this,” she said.
As Deyontey, KeShawn, and Aliyah walked up the stairs and approached the front door of Griffith Elementary, they were greeted by teachers, administrators, and the applause of about 20 students and staff from Harris-Stowe University (HSSU), located at 3026 Laclede Ave, in St. Louis.
Dwaun Warmack, president of HSSU, said he and his staff came out to support the students and make sure they see positive images of African-American males.
The men wore black T-shirts with the simple phrase “I am…” on the front in yellow letters. The back of the T-shirts read,“A HARRIS-STOWE STATE UNIVERSITY SCHOLAR.”
“It is important that students see images of African-American males as scholars,” Warmack said. “We hope to partner with the district and adopt two schools, so students continue to see positive portrayals of African-American males in the future.”
At the close of the school day, Shortt explained that things were moving along nicely.
“We had good attendance and reports have been good from the buildings,” she said. Everything seems to have gone well.”