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  • Carol Swartout Klein

Ferguson teacher talks about using Painting for Peace in class

Cristina Stoverink lives and works in Ferguson as a teacher at Central Elementary School, where she's led first-grade classes for six years.

During this particularly challenging school year, she's struggled to find answers for her students when they asked why anyone would want to hurt the Little Caesar's pizza place on North Florissant — a favorite of theirs.

They also wonder aloud why they couldn't make the 10-minute walk from their school to the Ferguson Fire Department for a field trip. Instead, they had to take a bus. Or why, during some challenging days, they could not take recess outside.

Stoverink said she ordered Painting for Peace in Ferguson as soon as she became aware of it, just a few days after it came out. She said the book has been a useful tool to help her children talk about their concerns. They recognize images from the pages, and places they see everyday in their community.

  • PHOTOS >> Above: Autumn, left, and Sosha, two first-graders in Stoverink's classroom. Right: Cristina Stoverink.

"Every page was like, 'I saw that,' or, 'I painted that,' or, 'that's down the street from me,'" Stoverink told us. "It helped a lot with them seeing things that were familiar to them. It helped them to talk about what was happening in their community, but to talk about the good things that happened as well as the bad."

When the students finally started school after a long delay because of the initial uproar, "they didn't really talk about it as much as we'd anticipated," Stoverink said. "They didn't really want to talk about it. They wanted to get to school and get working."

Once November came, with the grand jury decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer, it was a different story. "Their families were angry and upset and they kind of brought it to school," she said. "They were much more vocal than they were in August. The younger kids had more questions, whereas the older ones were a lot more vocal."

We're glad that the book could help in a small way and we're particularly touched by this: It helped enough, apparently, that her fellow teachers at Central Elementary — 30 of them! — went out and bought the book, too. Stoverink and her colleagues gathered with the book during a professional development day, read it together and talked about how they might all use it in their classrooms.

Art has played a role in Stoverink's classroom beyond our book. Her classroom has been involved in a yearlong "pen-pal art-exchange" project with a school in Maplewood, trading works from the students each month. The Maplewood students are planning a field trip at the end of the school year to visit Stoverink's classroom. Stoverink has also shared her experiences with Painting for Peace with her counterpart across the county.

Thank you, Cristina Stoverink, for sharing your story with us.

Are you interested in donating books for teachers to use in their classrooms? You can order them in the Painting for Peace website online store. Or, if you prefer, send us an email at and we can work with you.

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