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River Roads Lutheran School will stay open until June

River Roads Lutheran School
Principal Yvonne Boyd stands with students of River Roads Lutheran School during the opening of a new library in 2015.

Updated 5 p.m. Feb. 28 with decision on school's future – The 78 students of River Roads Lutheran School on St. Louis’ north side will not need to find a new school to attend mid-year.

The school community raised $136,000 — enough to stay open until at least June, principal Yvonne Boyd announced Tuesday.

“Thanks be to God and thank you for your prayers and donations,” she wrote in an email.

River Roads’ school board announced in January that if the school didn’t procure a large sum of money by the end of February, it would be forced to shutter before the academic year ended.

The future of River Roads is still questionable, as the fundraising does not solve systemic funding challenges. Many Lutheran schools in the city have closed in the past few decades, largely because neighboring churches no longer offer as much financial support, or any at all in the case of River Roads.

The board will meet again Monday to begin discussing a long-term funding strategy to keep the school open, according to Boyd.

“These kids really need this school,” she said.

Original story from Jan. 24:

A small but long storied Lutheran elementary school on St. Louis' north side is facing its biggest fiscal challenge yet to staving off closure.

Families and staff of River Roads Lutheran School in the Baden neighborhood learned last week they need to raise $175,000 to continue operating for the rest of the school year. And they have just six weeks to do it. That's a big ask from a school of 78 students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth.

The school, opened in 1869, is dealing with the same scenario as many Lutheran schools where there is declining support from church congregations, "as opposed to 40 years ago where it was flipped in our Lutheran school system," said Sue Nahmensen, director of the Lutheran Elementary School Association, a membership group for the 31 Lutheran schools in the St. Louis and southern Illinois area. "Our Lutheran congregations used to provide the lion's share of the support to operate the school."

Ebenezor Lutheran Church stopping giving River Roads any funding in 2002, school officials said, and parents in the economically depressed neighborhood struggle to come up with the roughly $5,000 it takes to educate each student.

Jasmine Leverett is an alumna of River Roads and now sends her two daughters to the school. She said financial hardship for the school is nothing new, and families do fundraising all the time to help off-set the costs of the school. But still, learning the school could shutter for good was devastating.

"I'm getting kind of sad right now because it's a possibility that my daughters would have to go to a different school," she said. 

Leverett wants to build a legacy for her daughters of all going to the same school, instead of having to look at an empty building in her neighborhood.

For another alumnus, James Mitchell, news of the school was ill-timed. He started teaching third and fourth grade at the school just a few days before its board announced the financial gap. "It was definitely rough," he said.

Mitchell started a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising money to keep the school operating. "We've used the emotions to help us to do better and go out and raise more funds for the school. We're going to do all that we can."

The page has raised just a few hundred dollars so far. The school's leaders will meet in early March to reassess the school's future. River Roads is just one of two Lutheran schools within the city limits. Grace Gospel Lutheran school is a few miles north.

"It sucks," Mitchell said, "but it's reality and we kind of just have to look at it straight in the face and do what we can."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney.

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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