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Students return to Central Visual and Performing Arts High School months after deadly shooting

Jay Mitchell, right, a 31-year-old alumni of Central Visual and Performing Arts from Pagedale, welcomes hundreds of students back to school on Tuesday morning in south St. Louis
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jay Mitchell, right, a 31-year-old alumnus of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School from Pagedale, welcomes hundreds of students back to school on Tuesday morning in south St. Louis. It was the first day students returned to the high school after an attack last October that left two people dead. Keisha Acres, 15-year-old victim Alexzandria Bell’s mother, stands behind Mitchell in white.

With alumni and staff cheering outside, students returned to class at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Tuesday for the first time since a deadly shooting closed the school.

“What I am anticipating today are individuals showing up in what is their truth and feeling what they need to feel,” said Principal Kacy Shahid.

In October, a former student shot and killed teacher Jean Kuczka and student Alexzandria Bell before being shot and killed by police. Other people were wounded or injured during the mass shooting in the school at the corner of Arsenal and Kingshighway in the city.

Last week, the school held an open house for students to return before the first day of class. Yurisky Velazquez Vera, a sophomore at CVPA, said that her feelings about school have changed completely after the shooting and that she was nervous to go back.

“School was my second home,” Velazquez Vera said. “Whenever I feel stressed, or anxious, I just go to school and dance. In that school, it was full of happiness, cheerfulness, everything. But since that impacted my school, it all changed.”

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Danielle Kozemczak, the parent of a sophomore at Central Visual Performing Arts High School from Holly Hills, left, welcomes students on Tuesday outside the school in south St. Louis. Today marks the first time students have been back to the school for class after a gunman attacked the school last October, killing a teacher and a student.

After the shooting, students spent weeks out of class, then returned to virtual learning in mid-November. During that time, teachers and staff used facilities at COCA, the Center of Creative Arts.

St. Louis community members also came together around the school by volunteering, holding remembrance events and wearing black-and-yellow shirts that said “CVPA Strong.”

Students from Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which shares the building with CVPA, returned to in-person classes in November, but repairs to the school delayed the planned return for CVPA students.

St. Louis Public Schools officials said counselors and other support resources are on-site Tuesday for students who need it, and students who feel they aren’t ready to come back to the building are able to continue attending virtually.

For now, students will attend class for only half the day, to make the transition easier.

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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