Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Final Day of Teach For Ferguson, but First Day of an Expanded Effort

So far I've written about my time working at the Ferguson library. On the last day of the teaching program, that's where I started.

By the 9 AM opening time, the line wasn't just out the door. It was wrapped around the sidewalk along North Florissant. I spent time talking with half-awake kids, excited parents and grandparents, and volunteers who were arriving all smiles.

Since I started on Wednesday, I organized a corps of high school kids in addition to other members of the community to work as volunteers. Together, we kept track of their volunteer hours, and this upcoming week I will either email or deliver an Education Exchange Corps certificate to each one of them documenting the hours they worked. Many high schools and scholarship opportunities require proof of community service. In that vein, we will also be offering these kids advice as they go through the college application process.

We have had so many kids show up that we needed an overflow site (200 kids on the last day!). The Ferguson First Baptist Church stepped up in a big way and provided the children with a wonderful and absolutely HUGE space.
Just one room at the Ferguson First Baptist Church
At about 9:30, I marched down to the church with some of my high school students and a couple other volunteers. We were greeted by Maxine Clark, Chief Executive Bear of Build-A-Bear, and Teach For America staff.

I tried to help however I could, but Teach For America had the church site running like a well-oiled machine. So I got to hang out with the kids! I worked alongside one of our many parent-volunteers for the first few hours.

As I was strolling around the church looking to help, I came upon volunteers from the National Parks Service Old Courthouse site who had been there just about every day. They wanted to run a scripted mock trial, Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson, with the middle and high school students. I was beyond excited! I spent the last two years on Wash U Law's trial team (I'm hanging out in the picture at the top left), three years coaching high school mock trial at Career Academy, and I'm a lawyer!

Our Courtroom at the church
In our trial (which was a bit of a combination of a few Dred and Harriet Scott legal actions for the historians out there), the jury returned an 11-1 verdict granting Dred Scott his freedom. I explained to the students that, in real life, a jury eventually returned the same verdict, but, after the decision was taken up on appeal, the Supreme Court refused to even recognize black people as citizens of America or to give Scott his freedom. The kids had a few questions. Some even wanted to know about becoming a lawyer.

I spent the rest of the day working with much younger kids. I identified one as having special needs, and I stayed with him until his mother picked him up. He had a lot of energy, and my neck is still sore, but we had a great time making up stories about Batman, working on spelling, and finishing a few art projects.

The outpouring of support we received was phenomenal. We had volunteers from far away - including two volunteer teachers I met from Chicago and Virginia - and from all over St. Louis donate their time and energy to giving these kids a great week.

In a last act of selflessness, the Ferguson-Florissant teacher who started this all, Carrie Pace, offered me a ride home. I learned that she is an art teacher, that she has an undying passion for her kids, and that she too hopes more comes of this. Carrie is certainly special, and there are many selfless teachers all over this country who are willing to go above and beyond to care for their kids. I got to meet many of them this week.

Right before she dropped me off, Carrie signed up to volunteer with us. We will be staying in contact over the course of the year to consider plans for next summer.

St. Louis, if this program showed anything, it's that together we can. We are committed to making sure that tomorrow we will. Stay tuned folks!

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ferguson Library: A Summer Day Full of Chills

I keep thinking about the multiple moments I got the chills today while working at the Ferguson Library. The good kind of chills. The kind that precede progress.

200 kids.
100 volunteers.
A TON of donations.

Just another day at the Ferguson Library!

When I arrived early this morning, the library was closed to the public, but that didn't stop families from lining the sidewalk in anticipation of the 9:00 AM opening. After coordinating some of our volunteers and speaking with the other wonderful staff, I did my thing. I walked out the door, pen in hand, donning a time-tested maroon button-down, and started getting parents and kids fired up for the day. They still had ten minutes before they could go in, but I was compelled to make sure even the moments in the morning heat on the sidewalk would be fun and engaging.

The day started and the kids poured in. Parents remembering Mr. E from yesterday cheerily shouted "Hello" and "Gooooooood morning!" right back at me, some beating me to the punch. I had a few kids hug me or demand high fives as they entered. I'd only met them yesterday.

One child insisted that he knew me from somewhere other than the library. No matter how much I disagreed, he was convinced that I was a teaching assistant at his elementary school. This was my first time working with the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

The surge of students quickly filled the library. Once we were full, we sent kids to our overflow site at First Baptist Church just down the street. Thanks to the wonderfully well organized folks at Springboard, we had plenty of arts, music, dancing, and other activities for our kids to do. Because of the efforts of the church, Springboard, the library, and all of the volunteers, from our organization, Teach for America, and so many other places, we were able to accept every child who came to us to learn.

And we had visitors too: Governor Jay Nixon; Captain Ron Johnson and several officers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol; Judge Marvin Teer; St. Louis City Alderman Antonio French. I watched kids line up to talk with Captain Johnson, but only for a second. The Pre-K kids needed a story to read, and the Science Center staff came in to do my favorite experiment: SLIME!

I should also mention that Jack Dorsey of Twitter-fame was there yesterday. He volunteered for much of the day with a friend. He joined a legion of St. Louisans who have given so willingly of their time to make these children feel special.

Due respect to all of our visitors, but I was absolutely floored when I heard the familiar, low, radio-ready voice of high school football teammate and righteous dude Anthony Wise. He just got in from out of town and had to volunteer. I took him with me and he settled down with our Pre-K crowd.

Anthony is a tall man. He towered over these kids and spoke with a booming voice--the kids loved him! I came back a while later to see him pick out a book to read out loud. I sat down to watch as the kids interacted with him and asked him questions in the middle of the story about a boy and his alien friend. Other volunteers started watching too not just because he is engaging, but because he actually wasn't reading the story at all. He was making up a story, with the kids, based on the pictures in the book. I had to leave because I was tearing up laughing. He'll be back tomorrow.

The day wound down. Parents picked up their kids. I gave every kid and parent the old don't-eat-your-slime joke on their way out. The high school students I am coordinating as volunteers helped reunite kids and their parents. Two middle school brothers weren't picked up. Well after the program ended, after exhausting all resources, I walked with them to their grandmother's home.

We talked about a lot of things on our walk: jet planes, the neighborhood, the protests in Ferguson. We even passed through the protest being held in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Our conversation was natural, nothing pressed. The younger kid told me he felt like I was his cousin.

After getting them home, I walked back to the library alone. I passed through the protest again. I stopped to invite parents to bring their kids to the library tomorrow. One man said he volunteered there today. I thanked him, he smiled, and I left him standing on the street with a sign.

I skipped one piece of the day. As I was waiting for someone to pick up the two brothers, two young black men asked to do an interview with me. They traveled from Virginia to show the real story of Ferguson. The interview turned into a conversation about education in the whole region, about the importance of giving every child a chance, about what we can do when we decide to work together.

Toward the end of the interview, I got the chills, those good ones, not just because I am passionate about education and kids and our future, not just because of the outpouring of support this program has received, but because the men who were interviewing me, who were there just to document my words, were nodding in agreement.

I invite you to join us at the Ferguson library again tomorrow. Click here for the details.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Call for Volunteers: Teach in Ferguson

Schools are closed. But kids want to learn!

The Education Exchange Corps is supporting the efforts of Ferguson-Florissant School District teachers, in partnership with the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, to hold classes for kids Pre-K-8th grade this week. We're calling on volunteers to work with kids for however much time they can.

Where: Ferguson Municipal Public Library, 35 N. Florissant Rd.
When: Anytime between 9:00 AM - 3:30 PM, Thursday and Friday 8/21-8/22
What: Lead and/or assist others leading group activities for students
Why: Just because the school district is closed doesn't mean they shouldn't learn!

Today, I spent most of the day at the welcome desk of the library to greet parents and kids, get them registered, answer phones, and dole out the EEC's soon-to-be-patented form of logical discipline. I also organized high school students to serve as volunteer assistants during the program. It was a long but wonderful day. The teachers of the district were out in force, and the kids were funny, open, and so happy to be there.

Tomorrow, the Ferguson-Florissant teachers will be gone for professional development. We'll have several retired teachers, Teach For America members, and other volunteers coming to help, but we can always use more motivated, active, engaging people who are willing to step up and work with kids with little instruction from others. We had 150 kids show up today, and the more active volunteers, the merrier.

If you come, I guarantee I'll be super supportive. I know I won't be the only one. Not only will you help a bunch of kids, but you'll also get to work with some very special people, like Mr. Washington.

I promise you will not regret it.

If you cannot volunteer, you can still donate supplies.

To get involved, contact me directly either by email at or by phone at 314-753-9033.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps