Education | St. Louis Public Radio


Avery Elementary School in the Webster School District.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Webster Groves’ elementary schools will be less crowded and have unbroken attendance boundaries under a plan being considered by its school board.

But the changes that would go into effect starting in 2021 have lukewarm approval from parents, with concerns over concentrating poverty in one school, walkability, and lower home values.

Tom Hoerr and Mindy Bier joined host Sarah Fenske for a conversation before a live audience Feb. 20.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Today’s teachers and school administrators are under increasing pressure on many fronts. There’s the increased focus on standardized testing, large class sizes and funding issues, not to mention the outside-the-classroom challenges complicating their students’ ability to learn.

In the midst of all of this comes a refreshing focus — and a new graduate-level course — from two UMSL-connected leaders: Mindy Bier, co-director of the university’s Center for Character and Citizenship, and Tom Hoerr, assistant teaching professor and scholar in residence in the College of Education and former head of the New City School

During this year’s Pierre Laclede Society Community Confluence donor event that took place at UMSL on Feb. 20, Bier and Hoerr talked with St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske.

Claudia Graham and Cassidy Stokes, both age 15, pose for a portrait at Normandy High School.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Cassidy Stokes thought it would be him, not his younger brother, who’d be the first to encounter a bullet.

“It just scared me, traumatized me,” the 15-year-old said about the time his brother accidentally wounded himself with a gun he’d picked up.

Claudia Graham, also 15, relies on prayer to get home safely every night. Her sister was shot and injured by an upset boyfriend “basically for no reason.” Guns scare her. People shoot before thinking, she said, but as a young woman, she’d carry one for protection.

For Steger Sixth Grade Center social studies teacher Tracey Mack, being one of a few black male teachers in the classroom can be isolating, but it benefits children of all races.
Andrea Henderson | St. Louis Public Radio

Darryl Diggs Jr. only had two African American male educators in his school years.

He met the first one, a physical education teacher, in grade school — and then another, a physiology teacher, in high school. At college, he only had one black male professor. 

Today, Diggs, 37, finds himself in a similar position. An assistant principal in Manchester at Parkway South High School for eight years, he’s the only black male administrator in his district. 

Dr. Mark Schisler, a biology teacher, helps students prep a lab at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience. Schisler was a chiropractor before switching to teaching.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

There are pros and cons: Much less pay. But summers off from work.

As schools across the country struggle to fill science teacher positions, some educators say it’s time to persuade trained scientists and health care professionals to switch careers and come back to school, this time as teachers.

From left, Michele Norris, Aisha Sultan and Colleen Starkloff will joined host Sarah Fenske live during Wednesday's show.
Images courtesy Michele Norris, Eddie Hafiz and the Starkloff Disability Institute

Increasingly more companies, organizations and governmental entities are establishing formal units focused on diversity and inclusion — the St. Louis County Police Department is one recent example in the bi-state region. But even as awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion grows, it can sometimes seem like something that all too often gets stuck at the level of lip service rather than leading to real change.

Webster University is aiming to move the needle “From Conversation to Action” over the course of its four-day Diversity & Inclusion Conference set for Feb. 24-27. All of the sessions are free and open to the public, with journalist and former NPR host Michele Norris, founder of The Race Card Project, giving the keynote address.

Students cheer during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Rockwood School District's new Eureka Elementary School on Aug. 28, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri has an updated rubric for measuring whether school districts are educating kids the way they should be.

The State Board of Education approved the changes at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

“It is an exciting day,” said Assistant Education Commissioner Chris Neale as he sat down in front of the board in Jefferson City.

Katelynn Portell posing with a medical mask in front of a sculpture at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in January.
Katelynn Portell

The virus that has upended China and caused a frenzy around the globe is affecting students at St. Louis-area colleges who are studying abroad. 

Katelynn Portell, a Lindenwood University-Belleville student, knows about the change firsthand. Portell was a week into her Mandarin-language program in Chengdu, Sichuan, when she had to leave China. Chengdu is a 14-hour drive from Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Educators like Jameca Falconer believe it's up to families and communities to help bring black history alive for children of all races, not just schools.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Every February, schools around the nation commemorate the accomplishments of African Americans by highlighting them through Black History Month lessons and programs. Some celebrate with school plays, guest speakers or hallway exhibits of locally and nationally known black figures.

Educators like Jameca Falconer, adjunct professor and director of Webster University’s Applied Educational Psychology and School Psychology program, believe it is the duty of parents of all races — as well as the community — to not limit interest in black culture to February.

Katie, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Kairos Academies, works on an English assignment on a recent school day.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Running a new school is not all that different from any other startup business. There are surprises, pivots and changes.

Kairos Academies, an independent public charter school, is navigating its first year with two young, ambitious co-founders and an education philosophy unlike any other in St. Louis public school offerings.

A St. Louis Public Schools third grader takes a practice MAP state proficiency exam. The district has cut back on how often students are assessed at a third of its elementary schools.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Students grumble about having to take another test. Turns out, teachers do, too.

About a third of St. Louis Public Schools’ elementary-level buildings are assessing their students less often this school year, at the suggestion of teachers, with the hope of leaving more time for instruction.

The columns at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The college's recent expansion of an app that records students' attendance using their phone's location has drawn pushback.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The University of Missouri-Columbia is playing defense over its small expansion of an app that records students’ class attendance using their phones’ location.

Over the past week, national media attention has created a fervor of concerns about privacy and a move toward creating a “Big Brother” state on campus. But university officials and the app’s creator say the software does not constantly monitor a user's location or collect other data, but only knows if a student is in the assigned room or not.

Students walk through the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in the Spring of 2017.

EDWARDSVILLE — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker released the first 10% of $105 million in funding for a new health sciences building on the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus Thursday.

The initial $10.5 million pays for the planning and design of the new building, which will house nursing, pharmacy, public health, social work and the many other health science programs at the university. 

Nancy Weaver joined Thursday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

When news breaks about a dangerous situation, it’s natural to wonder what one might have done in a similar scenario: Tried to help? Been courageous? Perhaps made things worse?

Running into burning buildings and shielding others from active shooters may be the sort of dramatic situations that come to mind. But far subtler opportunities to intervene on behalf of fellow humans come up more regularly than one may recognize — right in the grocery checkout aisle, for example, when witnessing a tense parent-child interaction.

That’s the sort of scene Nancy Weaver and her colleagues at St. Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice have been helping others around the region visualize and then learn to respond to in positive, practical ways.

Concordance Academy of Leadership provides programming to previously incarcerated and incarcerated individuals that will assist with re-entering into society.
Concordance Academy of Leadership

Before being released from prison, Melvin Hill Jr. was doing everything in his power to secure a sustainable job that would allow him to fulfill his lifelong goals. 

Then a friend told him about the local nonprofit Concordance Academy of Leadership. Hill applied while he was still incarcerated. Last May, he was accepted into the program that supports reentry into society after prison.

Recently, the academy received $1 million to advance its mission of reducing recidivism in Missouri and Illinois with a holistic approach to reentry into society.

Students leave Dunbar Elementary School in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. The school has space for 522 students but enrolled just 155 in September. Jan. 9, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

James Gibbs remembers when the 522-student-capacity Dunbar Elementary School in St. Louis’ JeffVanderLou neighborhood could barely contain all his classmates. 

“It was maxed; it was capacity,” said Gibbs, who’s now 62 years old. “If it didn’t overflow, it was 500.”

That was in the early 1970s when St. Louis Public Schools educated 111,000 students. Last fall, 155 registered at Dunbar, filling just 30% of the available classroom space. The district’s entire enrollment has fallen to 21,500, including 2,000 pre-schoolers. 

As the National Park Service's Regional Program Manager for Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, Nichole McHenry's plan is to make all national parks and sites inclusive and diverse.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

As a child, Nichole McHenry envisioned herself broadcasting the news, just like famed St. Louis anchor Robin Smith.

Although her dreams of becoming a reporter did not come to fruition, she found a different way to tell stories.

For the past 28 years, McHenry has been sharing the stories of national parks and other connected sites for the National Park Service. McHenry began working full time with the park service right after graduating from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. 

New Law Removes Big Barrier For Aspiring Teachers

Jan 12, 2020

In an attempt to relieve Illinois' severe teacher shortage, state lawmakers last year voted to remove a requirement known as the "basic skills test." That test has proven to be a stumbling block, especially for people pursuing the profession later in life, as a second career. This change, enacted just five months ago, has already opened the door for a would-be special education teacher in the East Moline School District. 

Seven of the 21 Clayton High School students who will soon travel to Iowa to take part in the presidential races try to pose for a group photo. Jan. 8, 2020
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Despite an entire semester of AP Gov at Clayton High School, Cassy Bennett still doesn’t know exactly how the Iowa caucuses work. 

“So I’d like to learn what that is,” the 17-year-old senior said, adding  through her laugh she doesn’t blame her teacher.

Bennett and 20 of her classmates hope to have a better idea of the quirky electoral practice after they spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in Iowa volunteering for political campaigns and observing rallies. 

A student at Ashland Elementary School in St. Louis does a mindfulness exercise. The school uses the practices to help its children regulate trauma caused by violence and poverty. Jan. 8, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The crackle of gunshots has become white noise for children living in parts of north St. Louis.

“I got used to it,” a fifth grade girl said, “because it happen a lot, so I’m just not scared of it no more.”

They know just what to do if they’re inside: 

“When I hear gunshots, I duck on the floor and get under my bed,” said a sixth grade boy.

Jeff Konkel left public relations to become a middle school English teacher. He's a resident at KIPP Inspire Academy and will have his own class next year.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Jan. 9 with information about teacher recruitment efforts

Missouri education officials have a handful of ideas on how to get more people interested in becoming public school teachers and then staying in the classroom for the long term.

It goes along with a nearly $400 million pitch to increase teacher pay detailed last month.

The six-point recruitment and retention plan reviewed and compiled by a teachers working group was presented to the State Board of Education during its monthly meeting Thursday.

Children wait in line to grab their backpacks and find their classrooms during the first day of school at the Affton preschool center.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

A community organizing group wants St. Louis and St. Louis County to spend more money on early childhood education.

In a report released Thursday, WEPOWER proposed a ballot initiative in November that would allow St. Louis County voters to consider a half-cent sales tax increase to expand access to pre-K. The group's members said that would raise about $84 million a year.

The report also urges St. Louis officials to designate 2% of the city's general fund budget — about $22 million a year —  to early childhood education.

Amanda McCleary, 33, moves her tassel at the first graduation ceremony of MERS Goodwill's Excel Center high school for adults May 29, 2019. Goodwill runs the schools across the state under a recent state program.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

There are approximately 500,000 adults in Missouri without a high school diploma. In 2017, to help mitigate that setback, then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed a measure that called for the opening of alternative high schools for adults, and Goodwill won the contract. 

The Metropolitan Employment Rehabilitation Services Goodwill established four Excel Centers across the state, in Springfield, Popular Bluff, St. Louis and Columbia, in 2018. The program is an alternative tuition-free high school that helps adults over the age of 21 earn their high school diplomas. The four centers have roughly 900 students combined. 

In St. Louis, the center on Locust Street recently had 47 students complete the program and cross the stage; the first commencement included six students. 

More Illinois students now qualify for college financial aid. State government will now offer money to students who might have been disqualified from getting federal help.

Washington University's Institute for School Partnership's Math314 program is training teachers to take a more conversational approach to math instruction.
Elliot Haney | via Flickr

What is there to say about the number 7? It’s odd, it’s prime. It can be reached by adding 3 + 4, 5 + 2 and 6 + 1.

That may be how a teacher has a “math conversation” with young students under a new approach to math education piloted by Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership, called Math314. 

Students in the Teen Advocates for Sexual Health group participate in discussion about gender identity, sexual violence and other aspects of sexuality during a meeting on Nov. 6, 2019.
Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

Twice a month, about 50 high schoolers gather at Planned Parenthood in midtown St. Louis to attend a sort of alternative sex education class. 

The students are volunteer members of Planned Parenthood’s Teen Advocates for Sexual Health program, which hosts evening meetings and retreats to teach teenagers about healthy sexuality. With snacks and worksheets in hand, students participate in interactive activities and discussion about consent, sexual violence and other topics. 

Yet some students in the program say they aren’t learning about consent and sexual violence outside of this program, even after an updated Missouri law called on schools to change their sexual education curriculum.

Using Black Children's Literature To Improve Reading

Dec 27, 2019
Tevin Wilson, a facilitator at Nine Network, and Angela Spittal, executive director of Ready Readers, talk with Confluence Academy-Old North first grade students Jermya Walker and Ziya Branom at the Believe Project reading room's grand opening on 12-19-19
Lance Thurman | The St. Louis American

Sixth grader Andre Turner leaned up against a wall-size mural of the new reading center at Confluence Academy-Old North.

His head rested on the “B,” about a foot taller than he is, that helped to form the word “Believe.” Turner was trying to stay out of the way as representatives from IKEA, Scholastic, Nine Network, Ready Readers and We Stories and leaders from his school district excitedly milled around the brand-new room.

When his fellow students return from winter break, they will be able to experience a quiet, relaxing reading room filled with black children’s literature and comfortable seating.

Children draw at City Garden Montessori school. The school plans to increase enrollment from 276 students to 2,500 over 10 years.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The Biome School, a small, independent public charter school in St. Louis, has to rely on donations for a quarter of its funding to educate 178 students. 

“We're certainly not crying foul from the standpoint that we knew the business model was broken when we launched the charter school,” said Bill Kent, school president and CEO.

The Tipton Re-Entry Center resembles an office space, with desktop computers, conference tables and carpeted floors. The center, which opened Wednesday, aims to break the cycle of reincarceration by connecting inmates with job resources prior to release.
Missouri Department of Corrections

Inmates at a Missouri prison will be able to prepare for the workforce prior to their release, thanks to an in-house training program. 

The Re-Entry Center at Tipton Correctional Center, the first of its kind in Missouri, opened Wednesday. The center will connect inmates with potential employers and provide a variety of educational resources. The Missouri Department of Corrections plans to open three additional re-entry centers in other prisons across the state next year, as part of an effort to break the cycle of reincarceration.

Students arrive at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy Middle School for a 7:10 a.m. class start time, one of 17 St. Louis Public Schools that start that early.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

School at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy Middle School begins at 7:10 a.m.

If Lisa Manzo-Preston’s seventh grade daughter took the bus to the St. Louis public school, she’d have to be outside at 6:03 a.m. on the dot.

“That's impossible for us. That’s absolutely not something we're able to do because of her level of exhaustion and her inability to wake up in the morning,” she said.