Metro-East News

High-fives welcome East St. Louis students back to school

East St. Louis District 189 welcomes students back to school

Students at Katie Harper-Wright Elementary School in East St. Louis, part of District 189, kick off the first day of school with a high-five line as educators welcome them back.
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Students at Katie Harper-Wright Elementary School in East St. Louis, part of District 189, kick off the first day of school with a high-five line as educators welcome them back.

On her first day on the job as an elementary school principal, Kiaundra Smith had more support in her corner than she expected.

The first day of school can be hectic. But a team of volunteers came Thursday morning to make the experience fun for Smith, her staff and her students at Katie Harper-Wright Elementary School.

No one entered the building without hearing an encouraging word about the upcoming year.

“You can do this.” “I believe in you.” “Let’s have a good day.”

The cheering went on for nearly an hour, thanks to East St. Louis natives Kim Hunt and Kenya Leonard. Together with the nonprofit Saving Black Minds, they sent volunteers and community leaders to almost every school in District 189 on Thursday.

Sorority and fraternity members, law enforcement officers and parents formed a welcome line to pump students up about the start of a new year.

“Our goal is to increase academic confidence,” Hunt said. “If we get them off to a great start, hopefully they’ll have a great year.”

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Volunteer Kim Hunt welcomes students Thursday morning in East St. Louis School District 189. Courtesy Photo by Kenya Leonard

Hunt and her volunteers made posters, blew up balloons and purchased noise makers and horns for the event dubbed “Off 2 A Great Start.”

This is the first year almost every school in East St. Louis had a welcome line.

East St. Louis Senior High School had the longest line by far, Hunt said. High school students weren’t left out of the back-to-school party.

“We want them to know that somebody believes in them,” volunteer Valerie Wiggins said. “We want them to know that somebody is watching them and waiting on their greatness.”

Before school kicked off this week, Saving Black Minds donated 90 back-to-school kits to students in East St. Louis.

The kits came with school supplies and school uniforms — one for every day of the week.

“We want to offer them what was offered to us,” Hunt said. “We are a city of champions.”

For more on Saving Black Minds, check out savingblackminds.org.

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