Private school seeking help after electronics, money stolen

A school leader says students don’t feel safe coming to class after their building was burglarized multiple times over the past four months.

Elite Scholars STEAM Academy, a private elementary school, is housed in a church at 115 West B Street in Belleville. Head of School Anetrise Jones said some money and electronics kept behind locked doors has gone missing.

The Rev. Robert Koepcke, interim pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, said he doesn’t know whether the rooms were locked at the time the thefts occurred as that’s “their responsibility under their lease.”

“We are aware of the reports,” he said. “We are cooperating with the police. We have yet to hear the results of their investigation.”

Koepcke said the school moved into the church in June and has a one-year lease. As a result of the school locating to the church, new video surveillance equipment was installed at the entrances, he said.

Jones said there have been four thefts at the school that have been reported to Belleville police.

Belleville Detective Sgt. Todd Keilbach said there were at least two open police investigations that he found had been reported by the school. If more incidents had been reported by other parties or if the police reports didn’t mention the school by name, Keilbach said they wouldn’t have shown up in his search.

He couldn’t release any details from the reports because the investigations are ongoing.

Jones said teachers planned to look at possible new homes for the school and make a decision soon. Their search for spaces included O’Fallon, Swansea and Belleville, according to Jones.

In response to the burglary, the school is in the process of fundraising for a new location. Its goal is to collect $50,000 by Dec. 16, when students leave for the holiday break, and have a new building ready for them when they get back in the spring. The money will also be used to replace some of the things that were taken.

People can donate through As of Friday, it had received $670 from 21 donors.

The online fundraiser states that more than $10,000 in items and donations collected by students is gone, including 11 tablets, four computers and $252 raised for the Leukemia Foundation. Also missing is $300 raised in an event designed and run by students that would have been used to buy engineering supplies and a 3D printer for the school.

“Our children were really disappointed that they weren’t able to get the things that they wanted,” Jones said.

Teachers have been taking home their classrooms’ electronics each night, according to Jones, and they’ve been feeling like that isn’t fair. But the real driving force for finding a new location has been the students and parents, she said. Jones has heard from them that they don’t feel safe.

“If someone would steal from children, what else would they do if we stayed in this space?” Jones said of what the school community is thinking.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes