1st Ferguson opens to elementary school

FERGUSON – Snow and cold temperatures could cause more than a few closed days for Johnson Wabash Elementary School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. As the students were ready to return from the recent snow days, the custodial staff discovered a major sprinkler system break forcing relocation. The new location is First Baptist Church (FBC), Ferguson.

“I was in the office expecting a quiet day because of the snow,” Ron Beckner, associate pastor of FBC Ferguson, said, “when the call came. It was Terry O’Neil, the school district’s facility director, and he explained the situation and just asked if there was any way we could help.”

Beckner invited the school staff to tour the church facility to see if they could make it work. “As we walked through the campus,” he said, “they asked good questions, and we tried to find answers.”

Beckner enjoyed the interaction with the school staff. “I was so impressed with the heart of the principal,” he said. “She was concerned about the kids like a mom. She said she had walkers who couldn’t walk miles out of the way, plus many have older siblings who walk children to school so the church being less than a half mile from the school building is a plus.”

The principal of Johnson Wabash, Robin Witherspoon, is not a stranger to relocation. Prior to Johnson Wabash, Witherspoon was the principal of Griffith School when it was severely damaged by the Good Friday tornado in 2011. “Being in one location is a real blessing,” she said. “When we had the tornado, I was working out of two buildings with students. Having them in one location makes it easier.”

The move from the school building to the church took only a few days. “By the time we had permission from the city and fire marshal,” Witherspoon said, “we only had one real day to get ready, although many of the teachers came in on Saturday and Sunday to get ready for instruction.”

Witherspoon also attended the Sunday service at FBC Ferguson. “I wanted to see how we would be received,” she said. “But, when I heard Pastor Stoney tell the congregation that this is what Jesus would do and Ron said that it was an opportunity to have these precious children in the church, I knew it was going to be ok.”

Beckner reinforced what he told the church. “We are being a church, being what a church is supposed to be,” he said. “When we have the ability to meet a need, we need to meet that need. Jesus said to offer a cup of water in His name.”

Witherspoon addressed the issue faced by the school and the church. “We’ve moved 427 students and 60 adult staff plus other volunteers into the building,” she said. “So, when you have 500 plus new people and more than 400 of them are children, it will make a difference. We are committed to leave the facility better than we found it.”

Beckner was quick to agree. “The school district started painting rooms and replacing ceiling tiles even before the students showed up. These were future projects for us. Our facilities manager now has four more custodians in his team. They will leave the building better than they found it, and it is a blessing.”