Pastor Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church led fourth graders at Koch Elementary in an affirmation.
“I am somebody!” Johnson exclaimed.
“I am somebody!” students replied.
Johnson was there to hand out teddy bears donated by Build-A-Bear and books from the American Federation of Teachers. The effort was organized by his church’s Center for Social Empowerment and Justice, which was launched to support local business and schools in the Ferguson area.
The students were plenty excited as they opened bags to find fluffy teddy bears.
But there was also a lingering sadness.
This past Saturday their classmate, Jamyla Bolden, was laid to rest. The 9-year old was fatally shot in north St. Louis County while doing homework in her mother’s bedroom.
“Jamyla was a young lady who smiled 24-7,” said Principal Howard Fields III. “She was an outstanding student.”
Fields remembered Jamyla as being outspoken, too. She’d let staff know if a classmate needed extra attention or wasn’t behaving in class.
“She was a leader,” Fields said.
The district has called in extra counseling help and the Association of Black Psychologists has offered support. Fields said it’s been rough on teachers, too.
“We struggled, we had to pick ourselves up because we had 350 students who certainly needed us,“ Fields said.
The school is no stranger to trauma. Several students live near the epicenter of protests in Ferguson; others walk by the memorial for Michael Brown in the Canfield Green apartment complex on their way to school.
Fields, who went to school at Koch, said his career in education, to shepherd students toward success, is a calling. He said the resolve of teachers has been especially strong in recent days.
“For our team, we like to look at each other and say, ‘are you in?’” Fields said. “And what that signifies is, I am in here for the battle, to make sure our students are learning.”
Teressa Kindle, Jamyla's fourth-grade teacher, said part of the healing process is not being afraid to grieve with her students.
“There is a song that they were singing in music class ‘That’s What Friends are For’ and I just broke down,” Kindle said. “I think that was helpful to the children to know that crying is OK. That grieving is OK. Even smiling at the memory is OK. I have my ups and downs, but I have them with the kids.”