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Emotional Distress A Worry As Kids Go Back To School In Ferguson

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Emotional Distress A Worry As Kids Go Back To School In Ferguson

Emotional Distress A Worry As Kids Go Back To School In Ferguson

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Kelly McEvers. The situation in Ferguson, Missouri is starting to calm down since the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police and the protests that followed. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon yesterday ordered the National Guard out of Ferguson. And schools will open up on Monday. Up till now they had been closed. Shereen Marisol Meraji from NPR's Code Switch team reports on how the unrest has affected kids and what adults are doing to help them feel safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, guys. How are you? Do you want chocolate milk or white milk?

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Parents, grandparents and aunties bring their kids to get free sack lunches at the Griffith Elementary School in Ferguson. Even though school's been postponed, the district's handing out free lunches every day. Raven Pratt, Amon Stewart and Caleb Key all choose chocolate milk with their lunch. When were you supposed to start school?

AMON: Thursday.

CALEB: Monday.

RAVEN: No, we supposed to start Thursday.

MERAJI: Pratt's right. She's in third grade. So is Stewart. Caleb Key is in sixth. What do you know about what's been happening in your community? What's been going on in Ferguson?

CALEB: People acting like a fool.

MERAJI: Tell me more about that.

AMON: Well, they shooting and stuff and killing people because Michael Brown got shot by the police.

RAVEN: They've been burning places down and they've been stealing stuff.

MERAJI: Griffith Elementary is less than a mile away from the protest zone, where until recently there's been looting and nightly clashes with the cops. So for some kids, the first day of school might be more stressful than usual. Jerry Dunn coaches social workers and teachers on how to help the students through it.

JERRY DUNN: So initiate that contact. Be accessible and available to the kids.

MERAJI: Dunn's the executive director of Children's Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis. She says dealing with the trauma begins with listening to the kids.

DUNN: Are they from that neighborhood? Have their family members - have they participated in some of the demonstrations and protests? Have their family members been arrested?

MERAJI: Maggie Vogt's here because she's a nurse and works with foster children in Ferguson. And she's noticed a change in them.

MAGGIE VOGT: Just a lot of anger and a lot of anticipation with the beginning of the school year - what's going to happen when they get back to school? Are they going to be safe getting to and from school? So just a lot of fear and, you know, mixed with anger.

MERAJI: Vogt takes home a packet with info about how to recognize when a child is in emotional distress, ways to administer psychological first aid and a list of people in the area trained on how to deal with child trauma. Demitrius Upchurch walks through the neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot and killed. Upchurch is a schoolteacher and is strolling hand-in-hand with his four-year-old son Aiden.

MERAJI: He's obviously too young for you to be talking about this with him.

DEMITRIUS UPCHURCH: No. We've been talking about it because he witnessed me get attacked by cops in June.

MERAJI: Upchurch says he was standing outside of his mother's house after dropping Aiden off when an officer walked up and asked for his ID.

UPCHURCH: I don't have to give you my name. I don't have to give you anything because I'm just standing outside. And from that point on, he just grabbed me, threw me on top of the car, cuffed me, threw me on the ground, put his foot on my chest.

MERAJI: And he says his son saw everything.

UPCHURCH: So I told him there are some good cops and there are some bad cops. And then he said when he grows up he wants to be a good cop.

MERAJI: Is that true?


UPCHURCH: So what you going to be when you grow up?

AIDEN: A good police.

MERAJI: Upchurch adds he doesn't want to have to keep doing this over and over - explaining violence and inequality to his son. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News, Ferguson, Missouri.

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