Jennifer Fowler watched news as it flowed out of Ferguson, Missouri, in August. She felt scared. She wanted to know what was real. And she wanted to tell the story herself.
When her senior year finally started at McCluer North High School in neighboring Florissant, Missouri, she got the chance. Along with her staff, Fowler, the editor-in-chief of McCluer’s newspaper, focused on the stories they could tell — about Parents for Peace, a group that set up a makeshift school when the Ferguson-Florissant schools were delayed, about students who went to the protests, about what it meant to wait for school to start.
#Ferguson slants across McCluer North’s yearbook’s cover, too. It’s faint gray on a black background, near the top. The hashtag, the place and what has happened since August is a part of their year now.
Yearbook Editor-in-Chief Melissa Moore’s story on Ferguson begins with this introduction:
Six days. Students and their families anxiously waited for six days to get the call letting them know they would actually be able to start school. The first day back for the 2014-2015 school year was unlike any other for students of not only McCluer North, but the Ferguson-Florissant School District as a whole. Hushed whispers of the name Michael Brown floated through the air with sad eyes. Kids wore personalized t-shirts saying “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “No Justice, No Peace.” Despite the chaos, students and staff were eager to get back into school.
McCluer North’s journalism teacher shot the image on the yearbook’s opening spread — two friends seeing each other again, shaking hands. “I didn’t think we were ever going to come back,” sophomore John White said in the caption.
“That’s what they really wanted,” Jonathan Hall said, “to just come back to school.”
This is Hall’s eighth year teaching journalism at McCluer North, his 10th year as a teacher at the school. He also teaches history, and in both those classes, his students wanted to talk about Ferguson. Fowler heard rumors that people feared riots at the school, but it has been calm she said. And she’s seen different reactions from white and black students. 72 percent of McClure North’s students are black, according to 2014 statistics from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 20 percent are white.
“In this high school,” Fowler said, “Ferguson means something different for everybody.”
Fowler and her staff know school could close down again when the grand jury ruling comes out. This time, they plan to report the news as it happens, she said, and to take on the tougher stories about race and social justice.
“I think that we’re ready.”
In August, students at Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri, got news of what was happening in Ferguson as everyone else in the country did, said Mitch Eden, publications advisor. Since then, they’ve tried to tell stories of how what happened in Ferguson impacts students at Kirkwood.
The district as a whole has about 50 students from Ferguson in the schools, Eden said. According to DESE, about 18 percent of students at the high school are black, about 74 percent are white. In September, they wrote about how those students tried to get to school in the first days. They’ve also chased down rumors. Now, Lucy Dwyer and other students at the newspaper are making sure they have names and numbers students from Ferguson ready for when the grand jury ruling comes out.
“If the decision is made on Sunday, Riverview Gardens may cancel school,” Eden said. And if Riverview Gardens cancels school, those students won’t have busses to get them to Kirkwood again.
Dwyer, the newspaper’s editor and a senior, wants to cover Ferguson and to make sure it connects with students at Kirkwood, telling the stories of what some of their classmates have experienced and how it may relate to their own community. Kirkwood, also a St. Louis County suburb, has also faced issues of race and disenfranchisement, including a deadly shooting at the town’s city hall in 2008.
With Ferguson, Eden said, “we’re really trying to find how it impacts our community.”
Here are some newspaper and yearbook spreads from McCluer North, McCluer High School and Kirkwood High School. I’ve also reached out to the Normandy School District, The Riverview Gardens School District and the Hazelwood School District and will add them if I hear back: