In August, 9-year-old Jamyla Bolden was fatally shot in north St. Louis County while doing homework in her mother’s bedroom. She was a student at Koch Elementary, part of the Riverview Gardens School District, where school administrators have been working to bring hope to the students coping with the loss of their classmate.
In addition to Bolden’s death, there have been other recent sources of trauma for students of the school. Some of the students at the school lived near the epicenter of the protests in Ferguson while others walk by Canfield Green apartment complex, where Michael Brown was killed, on their way to school
“Our kids are maintaining; they are very resilient,” said Howard Fields, the principal of Koch Elementary, on “St. Louis on the Air.” These concerns are personal for him—Koch Elementary was the first school he attended, from kindergarten to fourth grade.
“Going to the classrooms to let students know what had taken place was one of the hardest moments of my career,” Fields said of the days after Bolden’s death.
Kendra Worsham, the school’s counselor, joined Fields to discuss the resiliency of the students and the school district itself. She estimated that about five to ten percent of students have had severe issues as a result of the traumatic events in the past year.
“Sometimes it is not just the situations that took place right then and there, sometimes it might be situations that took place in their own families that they want to talk about because it brings up those memories for them,” said Worsham.
Despite the pain, however, Fields says that the students have had a lot to celebrate this semester.
Teddy bears and books came to ease the pain in the immediate days after Bolden’s death, and a playground has been built in her remembrance. Likewise, the St. Louis Rams came to the school for a “PLAY 60” assembly to promote a healthy lifestyle. Even when school was technically out for the semester, students had the opportunity to come back to the school to receive a Christmas present.
Fourth and fifth grade students have also started a special project that looks at the school’s issues critically as well—through reporting with their own television station, Koch TV.
“There have been a lot of kids and teachers dancing,” Fields said. “There have been smiles. They are having a fun time learning.”
There have been reasons for smiles from the administration itself, too. Through the chaos of the past year, the school was also dealing with its status as an unaccredited building in an unaccredited district.
“Out of 70 points possible in the’ 13-‘14 school year, we had 14,” Fields said. “If you know anything about APR and all of that, we had to at least obtain 35 points at the school level to be considered provisionally accredited building. Through all of the hard work, through all of the community partnerships that we built last year, we were able to increase from 14 points to 42 points.”
Additionally, Fields said, during the ’13-’14 school year, the school had no students who were proficient or advanced in MAP testing. In one year, that number increased to 25 percent of the student population.
“Are we where we need to go?” Fields said “Absolutely not, but we are moving in the right direction. That’s a testament to the community, the district and the job Dr. Spurgeon has done because the Riverview Gardens School District in itself is trying to achieve provisional accreditation. I think that gets lost a lot of the time.”
"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.