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What do we do about Ferguson?
That was the inevitable question facing teachers throughout St. Louis in the days following the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, in nearby Ferguson on Aug. 9. With summer drawing to a close, students were heading back to school just as nearby protesters were being tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets.
At Gateway Middle School — where 83 percent of students are black and roughly 9 out of 10 qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to state data — there was no dodging Ferguson. Many students saw Brown, just 18, in either themselves or their siblings. Even as a practical matter, the protests were tying up roads and making some kids late for school. They were watching live feeds of the demonstrations late into the night. It was all they were talking about.
So the staff decided to let them talk.
“We didn’t even know our kids’ names yet,” said Deborah Rogers, who teaches English and reading to 7th and 8th graders at the school. “We hadn’t given schedules out yet. But we had to sit down and have a serious conversation on race.”
Like the rest of the St. Louis community, including their own teachers, Gateway students had emotional discussions about being black in America, about mistrust of the police, about peaceful demonstration and violent protest.
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