First of all, congratulations! Yay!
You’re probably having very mixed feelings right now. On one hand, you’re like, YAY!, I got into TFA. Then you saw that you got, like, your 10th choice for placement, Saint Louis (a.k.a. St. Louis, STL, HuSTLe City, The Lou). Just kidding. I’m sure you ranked us number one. Well, if you’re as smart as your resume claims you are you did.
Why? Because St. Louis is, hands down, the best city in the United States. It is a scientific fact. There have been studies. But basically, we are selfish and want to keep our awesomeness to ourselves, so we keep our awesomeness a secret. Just kidding. St. Louisans are too nice to hog St. Louis. But for whatever reason, St. Louis remains the most underrated city in this history of underrated cities. Seriously. Like, if IKEA had ever heard of St. Louis, we’d have one.
After hosting some 2012′s last night, and finding myself babbling on and on more than usual (and I usually babble a lot) about St. Louis, I decided I should just write down some of my thoughts to spare people from having to listen to me blather on about St. Louis like a pageant mother bragging on her kid. Some of you may be getting a lot of advice from people who already live here, but some of you might be totally clueless. What follows is an incomplete and totally subjective list of stereotypes and things I’ve discovered that make my life in The Lou a little bit better. In no way are these the opinions of Teach For America. In fact, TFA, if you’re listening… earmuffs.
Welcome to Your Hood!
I have corps member friends in nearly every TFA region, and the resounding impression is that St. Louis is one of the best places to do Teach For America. I have several theories about this. First of all, and this is just based on what I’ve heard, we have the best staff. Obviously I have no basis for comparison, but many people have told me that our staff is simply the best. I don’t doubt it. They really put a personal touch on everything from day one. You will get a lot of support over your next few years, and word is that you’ll get more support here than in any other region. Probably because St. Louisans are known for their niceness.
I believe St. Louis is also a great place to do Teach For America because, as of right now, Teach For America has really solid relationships with our school districts. I’ve heard and read horror stories about TFA being shunned in other regions by unions or burned bridges. While TFA skepticism exists here, it simmers beneath the surface, and you will be welcomed with open arms into your school. In fact, districts here have approached TFA and sought to bring on corps members.
I also believe that St. Louis is the best place to do Teach For America because it is needed here. I believe that St. Louis is behind the rest of the country in education reform. I’m not saying the schools are great in D.C., NY, or anywhere else, but I’ve heard that the troubles in St. Louis are worse, or at least we haven’t made as much progress as some of the other notoriously bad school systems in other cities. We need great teachers everywhere, but rest assured that the kids in St. Louis need you. Additionally, the history of racism and oppression in this city is absolutely mind blowing. It is beyond anything you will even be able to fathom. If you do TFA in St. Louis, you will be on the forefront of a movement to end this disgraceful saga of hatred and injustice. In other regions, the leaders are already deep into transforming education. In St. Louis, the movement is just beginning (but just know that the movement began before TFA even got here- sometimes I think TFA forgets that we aren’t the only ones trying to change education here).
Finally, the reason I think St. Louis is a great place to teach is because St. Louis is a great place to live. Your quality of life here will be amazing because of our low cost of living. It’s a smooth transition because it isn’t a giant and overwhelmingly huge city. It’s easy to get around. There are lots of things to do. The people are down to earth. And, um, Forest Park. I believe TFA corps members can have the greatest impact when they stay beyond their 2-year commitment, and you want to be in a place you love from day one so you can make that happen. We need people who are going to come here and stay here and be in it for the long haul. We need people who are going to stick around to make the change happen here. St. Louis is one of the best places to do that. Once you get here, you probably won’t want to leave. Pull up a chair. Stay a while. Lay down some roots. As a teacher, you will definitely be planting seeds. Come to St. Louis knowing that you are needed to nurture those seeds and make sure they grow.
The thing I most wish I could change about TFA St. Louis is the closeness of our corps. I’ve heard some of the other regions have a more tight-knit corps. But guess what?! That’s totally up to YOU!!!! You guys have the power to be super close, non-cliquey, and uber supportive of each other. You guys have the power to add that personal touch and reach out and mentor the newbies once you are old and experienced like me. YOU have the power to make your corps whatever it is that you want it to be. So start today in building and bonding.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
First thing’s first- where the heck are you going to live? It can be overwhelming in St. Louis. St. Louis has 79 neighborhoods… whoops… I think one of them just had puppies… so more like 89 neighborhoods. Here is some of my advice:
1. I know you’re sick of hearing this totally easier-said-than-done non-advice, but don’t stress. It’s all going to work out. No matter how you decide to do things- move here before induction, wait until induction, or secure housing while at Institute- you will be fine.
2. What’s the worst that could happen? You have to crash on a friend’s couch for a few nights (which hey, you’re a TFA in St. Louis, you already have about 300 friends here), or you end up living in a neighborhood which isn’t exactly YOU. I suggest signing a 6 month lease. That way, you can scope out St. Louis for the first 6 months and see which neighborhoods you like the best. Then move to your favorite one. I think this takes the pressure off of having to find the perfect place right away. You’re not marrying it. It’s just a place you sleep in. And if you teach middle school, cry in. Just kidding. Kind of.
3. It’s better to live where you play than where you work. No matter where you live or work, you won’t be more than a 30 minute commute from your school. My first year in TFA, I made a housing decision based on being close to my school. Commuting to go see your friends every day sucks way worse than commuting to work. Trust me. And chances are, you’ll have to make a housing decision before you even know where you will be teaching anyway.
4. Okay, so it can be really overwhelming to sort through the nearly hundred neighborhoods of St. Louis. Not to mention, there are dozens of cities/neighborhoods surrounding St. Louis (University City, Clayton, Maplewood) that are also options. I am going to give you an oversimplified breakdown that is based on stereotypes and my opinion and impression. People you know, your friends, and even you may disagree with me. I’m just going to be giving the advice that I would personally give to a friend if they were moving here. Take it for what it is worth.
*MOST* corps members live in either the Central West End, Tower Grove, Soulard, or Downtown. Do corps members live other places? Of course. Yes. But those are probably the most popular areas. I think it can be really beneficial to live near other corps members, so I think those neighborhoods are the best place to start your search.
Our city is divided into North, Central, and South. North of Delmar is considered the Northside. South of 64 is typically considered the Southside. Between those? The Central Corridor.
I personally suggest you live IN the city. Is there anything wrong with living in the county? No. I lived in University City my first year as a corps member. But after living here for a year, I decided that I wanted my address to say St. Louis. I wanted the full experience of living IN St. Louis, and I didn’t want to be a part of the flight from St. Louis City. St. Louis City is an amazing place to live, and I felt that I needed to TECHNICALLY live there in order to say that I lived there.
So which neighborhood is right for you?
Central West End—CWE is a trendy, hip, affluent, bourgie neighborhood that is a mix of old money and young professionals. There are a lot of expensive boutique shops and fine dining restaurants. It is considered a “nice” neighborhood. If you live there, your rent will *probably* be higher, you will *probably* have to have roommates (or live in a studio), and you will have to be really really good at parallel parking. Central West End is a hop, skip, and a jump away from St. Louis paradise (a.k.a. Forest Park). If you are into the trendy, the hip, and the classy, Central West End is for you.
Downtown—Downtowners are a blend of badass risk-takers and trend-setters. Living downtown ANYWHERE is “cool”, and St. Louis is no different. The difference here is that Downtown ISN’T where it’s all happening, so if you live downtown, you’ll be part of the movement to MAKE Downtown where it’s at. Downtown is more expensive, obviously, and you’ll likely have to have roommates and pay for parking. The bonuses of living downtown? Some great businesses you can walk to, you can tell chicks you meet in dance clubs that you live downtown, and you’ll be helping to revitalize what is currently closer to “ghost town” than “downtown”. If you wish you had been placed in New York or Chicago, live downtown.
Soulard—I consider Soulard to be the “party” neighborhood, even though there is a lot more to do there than party. It’s a very fun neighborhood full of great nightlife and a lot of fun festivals, farmers’ markets, and historic buildings. Parking here is also tight, but rents are more reasonable. If you enjoy nightlife, if you like to actually get out and do things with other people, or if you’re the life of the party, Soulard may be the place for you.
Tower Grove— The Tower Grove neighborhoods (Tower Grove East, Tower Grove South, Tower Grove Heights, etc.) are the most racially and socio-economically diverse neighborhoods in St. Louis. A very eclectic and global neighborhood, Tower Grove is home to South Grand, a strip of businesses that include many local international cuisines, Tower Grove Park (the second biggest park in St. Louis), and at least five schools where TFA corps members are placed. If you want a walkable neighborhood, are looking to live alone, are on a budget, or would like to experience the more down-to-earth/laid back side of St. Louis where there are a lot of fun, free activities at your fingertips, I would suggest checking out TG.
House or apartment? St. Louis has a pretty eclectic mix of options. Downtown you will probably be living in a loft-style apartment. CWE an apartment or a studio. Other neighborhoods, likely a house. “Four family flats” are common here.
5. Crime is probably one of the first things you are thinking about as you seek housing in St. Louis. I think that’s fine, and it’s good to be informed. Knowledge is power. However, please read my thoughts on STL crime statistics in a later section of this post. Also, remember that St. Louis is extremely segregated. Like many cities, the ritziest neighborhoods sit right up against the most impoverished neighborhoods. Things can change literally from one block to the next. Put crime statistics, media coverage (often either sensationalized), and hearsay in perspective. Also know that, even though random crime does happen, if you aren’t doing drugs, buying drugs, dealing drugs, or dating a drug dealer, your chances of being a victim of crime here are likely greatly reduced.
http://www.craigslist.org (Probably the best resource to find an apartment in St. Louis.)
http://stlouis-mo.gov/neighborhoods/ (Good resource for maps, boundaries, and crime statistics.)
http://explorestlouis.com/visit-explore/discover/neighborhoods/ (Overviews that will make every neighborhood seem like the best neighborhood. Lots of county information.)
http://www.builtstlouis.net/ (Won’t really help you find a house, but an extremely interesting look at the history and architecture of the different neighborhoods of Saint Louis.
www.bentonparkwest.org/ (Benton Park West neighborhood website.)
www.lafayettesquare.org/ (Lafayette Square neighborhood website.)
http://www.southgrand.org/ (South Grand neighborhoods like Tower Grove. Lots of great resources under “neighborhood links”.)
http://www.thecwe.com/ (Central West End neighborhood website.)
http://www.downtownstl.org/ (Downtown St. Louis neighborhood website.)
http://buder.wustl.edu/Program/Documents/St.%20Louis%20Resource%20Guide.pdf (A really cool guide for moving to St. Louis that includes information on traffic, transportation, moving companies, and utilities.)
http://millsapartments.net/ (If you need to sign a lease before you get here, Mills is a reputable property management company.)
http://www.mansionhouse.com/ (Mansion House is also a reputable property, and you can even score a furnished apartment if you don’t want to deal with furniture.)
http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/accredited-business-directory/property-management/saint-louis-mo (Property management companies recommended through the BBB.)
Things to Do
There are a lot of things to do in St. Louis. Many of these events are free and open to the public. I’ve done some of the work for you, but to truly experience all St. Louis has to offer, you’ll need to make sure you keep up with local event calendars and media. I also suggest that if you have a particular interest, like theater, that you research local theaters and “like” them or “follow” them so you can stay abreast of events!
- Mardi Gras (http://www.mardigrasinc.com/) January/February
- St. Patrick’s Day (http://www.irishparade.org/, http://www.stlhibernians.com ) March
- Cinco de Mayo (http://cincodemayostl.com/) May
- -South Grand Creepy Crawl (https://www.facebook.com/pages/South-Grand-Creepy-Crawl/164396706910851
- -CWE Halloween ( http://www.thecwe.org/2011/09/halloween-in-the-cwe-2/) October
- First Night New Year’s (http://www.grandcenter.org/directory/festivals-events/first-night/ ) NYE
- Thanksgiving Day Parade (http://www.christmasinstlouis.org/) November
- Earth Day (http://www.stlouisearthday.org/events/earth-day-festival/) April
- Taste of St. Louis (http://www.tastestl.com/) September
- Food Truck Fridays (http://www.saucemagazine.com/foodtruckfriday.php) Summer
- Food Trucks daily (https://www.facebook.com/SLFTA, http://twitter.com/#!/stlfoodtrucks, http://showmefoodtrucks.com) 365
- STL Mag Food Wine Design (http://sites.stlmag.com/foodwinedesign2012/)
- Feast in the Field (http://www.slowfoodstl.org/)
- BBQ events (http://www.stlouisbbqsociety.com/#!calendar)
- Weekly food events calendar (http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/gutcheck/weekend_best_bets/)
- The Point 10 K Run (https://www.facebook.com/events/343186535723783/?__adt=35) Beer is food, right?
- Brewer’s Heritage Festival (http://www.schlafly.com/events/calendar/2012/06/15/st-louis-brewers-heritage-festival/)
- Art in the Park (http://stlhills.com/art-in-the-park/)
- Laumeier Art Fair (http://laumeiersculpturepark.org/programs_events/art_fair)
- Saint Louis Art Fest (http://www.culturalfestivals.com/)
- Fair St. Louis (http://fairsaintlouis.org/ ) Free summer concerts
- LouFest (http://www.loufest.com/)
- Whitaker Music Festival ( http://www.mobot.org/events/Whitaker/default.asp)
- St. Louis Uncorked (http://www.stluncorked.com/)
- Big Muddy Blues Festival ( http://bigmuddybluesfestival.com/)
- University City Jazz Festival ( http://www.ucityjazzfestival.com/)
- Summer Jam/ Super Jam ( http://hot1041stl.com/1912384/super-jam-2012/)
- PointFest ( http://www.1057thepoint.com/pointfest/)
- Twilight Tuesdays (http://www.klou.com/pages/twilighttuesday.html)
- MayFest (http://mayfeststl.com/) Ummmm… May
COMMUNITY AND CULTURAL EVENTS
- PrideFest (http://www.pridestl.org/) June
- Renaissance Faire (http://www.renstl.org/main/)
- Saint Louis Pirate Fest (On hiatus until 2014)
- Greek Festival (http://www.stlgreekfest.com/, http://www.sngoc.org/ )
- Fish Fries (http://www.fridaynightfish.com/, http://nomeatforyou.blogspot.com/, http://fox2now.com/my-neighborhood/fish-fry-finder/ ) Lent
- Glow Fest/Balloon Race (http://www.greatforestparkballoonrace.com/ )
- Ice Carnival (http://visittheloop.com/ ) January
- Oktoberfest (http://www.soulardoktoberfest.com/) Fall
- Strassenfest (http://www.strassenfest.org/) Fall
- Naked Bike Rides (https://www.facebook.com/wnbrstl) June/July
- May Day (http://www.anniemalone.com/may-day-parade.html) May
- UniverSoul Circus (http://universoulcircus.com/schedule)
- Shakespeare (http://www.sfstl.com/in-the-park/) Summer
- Circus Flora (http://www.circusflora.org/)
- Festival of Nations (http://www.festivalofnationsstl.org/) August
- African Arts Festival (http://stlafricanartsfest.com/) May
- Storytelling Festival (http://stlstorytellingfestival.org/) Summer, May
- Show-Me Burlesque (http://showmeburlesque.com)
- Beggar’s Carnivale (https://www.facebook.com/#!/beggarscarnivale )
- Comic (http://comicshow.stlcomics.com/ )
- Film Festival (http://cinemastlouis.org/sliff-2012)
- Naughti Gras (http://kokenartfactory.com/events) February (ADULT)
- Saint Louis TEN (https://www.facebook.com/SaintLouisTEN) Varies
- Cardinals Opening Day (http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com)
- St. Louis Go Marathon (http://www.gostlouis.org/)
- St. Louis Rock ‘N Roll Marathon ( http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/st-louis)
- Other Races (http://www.stlouistrackclub.com/calendar.htm)
- Race For The Cure (http://www.komenstlouis.org) June
- Dine Out For Life (http://www.diningoutforlife.com/stlouis) April
- Washington University events (http://news.wustl.edu/Pages/Calendar.aspx)
- Saint Louis University events (http://www.slu.edu/x389.xml)
- UMSL events (Listed by individual colleges on main website.)
- Harris Stowe events (Listed by individual departments on main website.)
- http://sexstl.com/calendar/ (ADULT)
FREEstyle (Free things to do in the ‘Lou)
- Science Center
- Graffiti Wall
- Forest Park
- Anheuser Busch Brewery tour
- Lumiere Sculpture Park
- Museum of Westward Expansion (the museum underneath the Arch)
- City sculpture park (CityGarden)
- Missouri History Museum
- Free tickets at the Muny (http://www.muny.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88&Itemid=100223)
- Summer concert series
- St Louis Art Museum
- Mildred Lane Kemper Art (WASHU)
- Third Friday at Third Degree Glass
- Holocaust Museum
- Cathedral Basilica
- Botanical Gardens (certain days)
- Turtle Playground
Not Free but Awesome
- City Museum (open ‘till midnight Fridays and Saturdays)
Favorite Local Gems of Mine
- Shaved Duck
- Winslow’s Home
- Roller Derby (Women: www.archrivalrollergirls.com and Men: http://www.stlgatekeepers.com)
- Farmer’s Markets (http://agebb.missouri.edu/fmktdir/view.asp?region=5)
- Café Ventana
- Forest Park
- Gelateria Del Leone (http://www.thegelateria.com/) Has free wi-fi AND is owned and managed by a TFA St. Louis corps member!
- Sledding on Art Hill
Overrated Local Haunts
- Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
- Blueberry Hill (or pretty much anything on the Loop)
St Louis Gifts
- STL-Style (http://stl-style.com/)
- Kakao (http://kakaochocolate.com/)
- Bogart’s (http://bogartssmokehouse.com/) They bottle and sell their sauce.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://www.thepost-dispatchstore.com/St_Louis_Gifts_s/3.htm)
- Museum Garage Sale- Every year (usually in March and held at the Zoo), the St. Louis museums have a garage sale to sell off clearance items.
St Louis Foods (http://stlplaces.com/stl_foods/)
- Gooey Butter Cake
- St. Paul Sandwich
- Fried Brain Sandwich
- Toasted Ravioli
- St. Louis-style Pizza (with Provel)
- Vess Soda
You’re going to have many needs over the next few years, and these needs are going to add up. Spend as little money as possible. Here’s how:
-Bradburn’s (http://www.bradburnspts.com/) is a local teacher supply store. It is very expensive, so I recommend that you go here to see what they have, but then try to find similar items elsewhere. However, TIME IS MONEY. Some of the items here are WORTH IT, like tracking charts, a few bulletin board items, bulletin board borders, and books with reproducibles. They have a frequent shopper punch card, and also carry sturdy ID badge lanyards for 99 cents.
-FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) is a huge supporter of Teach For America. The FedEx in my neighborhood is almost always jam-packed with corps members. You will get a discount card from TFA that entitles you to black and white copies for 3 cents each. LAMINATE THAT SHIT. Carry it with you always. My school did not have a working copy machine this year. TFA will let you make copies at their office, but that isn’t always convenient. COPIES ARE EXPENSIVE WHEN YOU HAVE 100 STUDENTS. OfficeMax will also give you a discount on copies with their Teacher Perks card (http://www.officemaxperks.com). There is only one 24/7 FedEx in STL, and it is at 1901 S. Brentwood Boulevard.
-KidsMart (http://www.kidsmartstl.org) is your new best friend. In exchange for 3 hours of your time volunteering for them per year, most TFA teachers (there are some qualifications based on the poverty level at your school) qualify for a shopping trip every month. This means you can come once a month and fill an entire shopping cart with free school supplies donated by the St. Louis community. They give you a shopping list when you check in that tells you how many of each item you are allowed to take. Here is my advice:
-Call ahead of time (during the day) to make sure you are on the list. DO NOT DRIVE OUT THERE unless you know for sure you are on your school’s roster. THEY WILL NOT LET YOU SHOP if you aren’t, even if your principal said she already sent it in. CALL BEFORE THEY OPEN at like 3, because if you call after that they won’t look it up for you. Yeah…
-It can get crowded. It’s less crowded in the middle of the month and early on Saturday mornings.
-You can only fill one cart. You typically can get two backbacks. Get the backpacks first and hang them off the pole on the shopping cart. Put small supplies like pencils, makers, and scissors in the backpacks so that you have more room in your cart for bigger items.
-Don’t get stuff you don’t need.
-Anything at Kidsmart can be used as an incentive. Kids love school supplies.
-Get the max number of books possible! Kids love books. You can build your own library or give the books away to students.
-Find a few students to unload your car for you once you get to school.
-The giant memo boards are a pain in the ass, but kids go crazy for those.
-If you don’t miss a month of shopping, you get to go to an extra shopping day for “perfect attendance” teachers at the end of the year.
-St. Louis Book Fair (http://www.stlouisbookfair.org/) is typically the last weekend in April. It is GIANT and a great way to find affordable books for your classroom. On the last day of the fair, books are marked to half price. This book fair takes place in a parking garage and is full of thousands of used books. Sometimes TFA teachers are able to come the day after the fair ends and have their pick of what is left for free.
-Other book fairs (http://www.booksalefinder.com/MO.html) occur throughout the year throughout St. Louis City and County. This website has most of them. Be sure to check it out! And don’t be afraid to go to a smaller sale. You never know what you might find!
-Thrift stores can be a great place to find books! Value Village typically has a great selection of books, and sometimes on Tuesday they mark them half price. I go about once a week and buy all the Scholastic books I can find. It takes me ten minutes to scan the shelves for the Scholastic label, and I walk out of there with a trash bag full of books for less than 10 bucks usually. (http://papermoon.hubpages.com/hub/Value-Village-St-Louis) (The one on Watson Road has the best selection of books.) There is also a GOODWILL OUTLET downtown. This is like a Goodwill store on CRACK. It is basically all the stuff they couldn’t sell at a normal Goodwill store. It is thrown into bins and sold by the pound. I have gotten some GREAT books here for REALLY cheap. They have tons of bins full of books. I’ve also been able to find cheap keyboards and mice for my classroom computers. I also buy a bunch of old t-shirts to use as cleaning rags. (http://www.mersgoodwill.org/shop/goodwill-outlet-store/)
- DonorsChoose (http://www.donorschoose.org) is a website where you can post a project/grant and people will make donations. I thought when I first did it that I would have to ask all my friends and family to donate and that they would be pissed, but the truth is that complete strangers have mostly been responsible for funding my large projects, and that
some of my friends and family were waiting for an opportunity to help me out. ALWAYS have a DonorsChoose project up, especially because there are a lot of media campaigns right now. It is a passive way to get stuff for your classroom, and you have nothing to lose by posting on there. MAKE SURE you follow their directions and send in thank you packages promptly. My biggest complaint about DonorsChoose is that they tack on extra fees to the cost of your project to help DonorsChoose stay running, which makes sense, but also increases the amount of money you have to raise. AS SOON AS YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE TEACHING, open a DonorsChoose account. Even if you don’t know what to ask for, just think of something. DC some random classroom supplies. My first project was to get a journal/diary for every kid in my class (100 kids). I also scored 6 bean bag chairs for my library, and stress relief balls for my kids with ADD. Once you have successfully completed a few projects, you can also ask for big things like field trips.
-Sonic’s Limeades for Learning is another resource for funding grants. They partner with DonorsChoose. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I have heard that other corps members in St. Louis had large projects funded through them. http://www.limeadesforlearning.com/
-Amazon wishlists (http://www.amazon.com/wishlist) are one of the best ways to get donations for your classroom from your family and friends. You don’t have to wait for a giant project to get funded like you do on DonorsChoose. I ALWAYS have a wishlist up on Amazon. That way, any time someone asks me how they can help, I send them to my wishlist. They can buy one book, a whole set of books, or other supplies. I have different price points on it. It’s exciting to randomly receive books in the mail from friends who cared enough to donate a few books. Having a list up isn’t a guarantee of donations, but why wouldn’t you do it? Just have it up there. Many people will want to help you but won’t know how. This makes it easy for them to get involved. You enter your address on your wishlist and people can have items shipped directly to your school. You can also leave notes with the quantity that you need, why you need each thing, and rank the priority of each item. Here is what my wishlist looks like (it needs some work but at least it’s out there!): http://amzn.com/w/32WNC1QQ62MG8
-One dollar books (http://www.townsendpress.com/our-books/tp-library-amp-bluford-series/) are available through Townsend Press. If you think kids love “Twilight”, see what happens when you bring Bluford High books into your classroom. They are THE MOST POPULAR books I’ve ever seen with my kids, and I’ve heard 15-year old tough guys covered in tattoos squeal like little girls when they saw I had Bluford books. You can order them through the Townsend website for only a dollar, and there is a whole series.
-Teacher discounts—ask everywhere! If you are spending money, ask if they offer a teacher discount. Bring your ID badge everywhere you go. Every little bit of savings helps.
-Student discounts—ask everywhere! You are going to be an UMSL student. Typically, TFA teachers do not get an UMSL ID. GET ONE. You need to get an official print-out of your schedule from the registrar, then take it to the ID office. This will take you an hour or two, but it is worth it. There are barely any businesses that do not offer a student discount, but you need a student ID to actually get it.
-Speaking of UMSL… The parking pass is not worth it! Either take the metro in, or park in the commuter lot by the metro stop on the south side of campus. YOU WILL GET A PARKING TICKET if you park without a permit, even if your class is at night. Parking permits are exorbitantly expensive. Be careful.
-KIPP Inspire Academy in St. Louis is a pretty amazing place to observe. They have been very receptive to TFA in allowing observers. If you ever get a day off, I suggest observing a class or two there. Observing there, and spending time with some of their teachers, has helped me more than anything else in my two years with TFA. They have a different schedule than most other TFA placement schools, so check them out. Obviously you need to get permission ahead of time before you observe, but they are very open to sharing resources and helping everyone in St. Louis provide the best education for all students. Also ask about the KIPP version of TFAnet.
-Walmart and Target offer community grants, and are especially interested in helping children in our community. They would be great to approach for a larger undertaking, like a field trip. It is best to apply in person. Ask for their community relations rep or for a community grant application. You will need your school’s or TFA’s tax ID number.
Other Random Things I Know:
- You will encounter the worst traffic on 64, 70, and 170. Traffic typically flows into the city during the morning commute and out of the city during the evening commute. AM rush hour tends to be between 7 AM and 8 AM. Evening rush hour seems to be 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM.
- St. Louis LOVES red light cameras, and you ARE legally responsible for paying red light violations (even if you have out-of-state plates! Don’t ask me how I know this!) Be very careful at all red lights. If you are turning right, come to a complete stop first.
- St. Louis is good at plowing major roads when it snows. St. Louis is not good at plowing side streets when it snows. This is good because you need to drive on major roads to get to work. This is bad because you will live on a side street. Luckily, you’re a teacher, and if the roads are bad, you won’t have to go to work. Darn.
- Crime statistics will freak you out.
- Crime is a reality in any city.
- Prevention is better than whatever else there is besides prevention.
- I’m not saying not to be aware of crime statistics or happenings, but be very careful to be critical of the media sensationalizing crime. Also, crime statistics in St. Louis and East St. Louis are skewed. Reports of this being the most dangerous city or having the highest number of crimes may not be valid. There are a lot of complicated reasons why which you can research and debate at your leisure, but I’m just saying, you can let fear run your life, or you can become informed and realize that St. Louis is relatively safe.
- Abandoned buildings are common in St. Louis. There has been a huge population flight from our city over the past 50 years. Just because you see an abandoned or run-down building does not mean you are on in a “bad neighborhood”.
- If you know me, then you know that I don’t abide by political correctness. I do, however, attempt to maintain respect, and therefore implore you to be respectful when discussing the neighborhoods of St. Louis. I don’t care how much you play the “where did you go to high school” game, you still never know where someone is from. Referring to a certain place as “the hood” or a “bad neighborhood” could deeply offend someone, especially in a town where our roots are so closely tied to the intersection we grew up on. Just because a place is different than what you are used to does not make it a bad neighborhood.
- If you are concerned about break-ins, which is the crime you are probably most likely to be the victim of in St. Louis, keep valuables in a safe that you bolt to the floor or a safe deposit box at your bank.
- Get renter’s insurance if you care about your stuff.
- Get a steering wheel lock if you care about your car (and use it every time).
- Do not leave ANYTHING in your car. Not a GPS. Not a camera. Not a credit card. Wipe the crap your GPS mount leaves off your windshield.
- Get this (http://www.homesecuritystore.com/p-1524-la98001-kimber-la98001-pepper-blaster-ii.aspx) and learn how to use it. I have dealt with this company and they are awesome. I like the Kimber Pepper Blaster I better—it is more inconspicuous, doesn’t have a handle, and looks more like a pager. If you are going to carry a weapon, this is my personal recommendation. Just make sure you don’t bring it with you to school.
- Have a plan of what you will do if you get mugged. This is the crime you are probably the second most likely to be the victim of. Try to prevent it by never walking alone and being aware of your surroundings. If you do get mugged, what will you do? Will you surrender your purse (which is recommended by pretty much any source you talk to), or will you fight? Will you scream? Will you bark like a dog? Good advice I heard is to keep your phone in a different place than your wallet. Show the mugger your wallet so he/she can see the cash, then throw it as far away from you as you can. Run the other way with your cell phone and call the cops.
- Keep the police non-emergency number in your phone (314-231-1212) for those times when you just aren’t sure and don’t have the guts to call 911, but it’s better safe than sorry.
- If you are experienced with a gun or already have a gun, make sure you take care of what you need to in order to transport it into Missouri (http://ago.mo.gov/Concealed-Weapons/).
- Always lock your doors and windows. If you live on a first floor (or actually any floor), never leave your windows open while you’re asleep or not home.
- Vary your routine. Don’t make it obvious when you aren’t home. Always leave a light on, and if there are flyers posted on your door, don’t remove them right away (this is a common way for burglars to determine when you come home each day).
- None of this information is meant to scare you, only to inform you. When I moved here I had very little information to go on, and all I knew about crime was the hype I heard, and therefore my life was ruled by fear. My life isn’t ruled by fear anymore. I have a great life.
- All of this is my opinion solely. Plenty of people will disagree with me.
- You may have heard about something called the knockout gang. Some claim it is overhyped by the media, and some are claiming that the media are actually underreporting it. I think it is something to be aware of. There have been a few attacks on pedestrians in St. Louis by groups of people or by people on bikes. Muggers almost always work in pairs or teams anyway, so this isn’t really anything new, but the claim is that these attacks aren’t motivated by theft, but are for the sole purpose of hurting people, and one person has been killed in such an attack. Again, BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. And yeah, if you see someone riding toward you on a bike, get out of their way. You don’t need to be scared of every teenager you see, because 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of teenagers in St. Louis are NOT in the knockout gang. Seriously.
- Be prepared for other emergencies. Have a kit in your home in case there is a disaster. It should contain a crank radio/flashlight, enough food (which does not require cooking) and water for a few days at least, enough medication for a week, and other first aid supplies. Have a plan of what you will do in an emergency. Tornados and earthquakes are the most likely natural disaster to occur in St. Louis. It can also snow a lot here, and you could get “snowed in”. Speaking of which, I keep a snow shovel in my house at all times, and also a car brush/ice scraper (it won’t do you much good if your car is iced over and the scraper is in your car).
Other random tips:
-Get a GoogleVoice number to give to students (http://www.google.com/voice)- then you can be local! You can get a 314 number that will ring through to your phone without having to give up your old number, voicemails sent to you visually in a text message, the ability to block unknown numbers (if students prank call you), etc.- and all for FREE!
-Need a Missouri license or to get Missouri plates? Clayton Licence Office at 7638 Forsyth Boulevard in Clayton is more like the United First Class Lounge than a DMV. There is almost NEVER a line- it’s worth driving out of your way to go here, especially if you hate the DMV as much as I do. They have awesome hours, take credit cards (but not VISA), and even have a parking lot on the east side of the building. Hours are Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30, first and last Saturday 8:30-12:30, and the last five business days of the month 8-6.
-Always check Craigslist for any and everything. Before you buy anything, search for it on Craigslist. You can almost always save money. I’ve been able to successfully buy cars, sell cars, hire people, get part time jobs, find volunteer gigs for myself, find volunteers for my classroom, find free or donated items, find roommates, find apartments, etc. etc. etc. Often times if I need something for my classroom, I will search for it on Craigslist. I will then e-mail the person and ask if they would be willing to donate it for free to my classroom if they can’t sell it.
-Sign up for Groupon and Living Social to get great deals on local stuff. St. Louis Magazine also has a coupon service (http://www.stlmag.com/goodbuy).
-“Like” businesses on Facebook. You can often find exclusive deals and coupons, learn about awesome community events, etc. For example: Shop and Save (a local grocery store) announces their Thursday deals on their Facebook page. A random Thursday every month, you get $10 off your purchase if you spend $50 (calculated on your total BEFORE coupons) or more.
-Speaking of grocery stores… The nicest ones are Dierberg’s. Then Schnucks. Then Shop and Save or Walmart. Then Aldi. We also have Whole Foods and Trader Joes. Culinaria is an expensive version of Schnucks. Schnucks is Kroger (King Soopers, QFC, Fred Meyer).
-Some local restaurants have a free frequent diner card that can earn you some awesome deals (as well as some street cred)! For a list of restaurants, visit http://saintlouisoriginals.com/. Go to any of the restaurants and ask your server for the card to get hooked up.
-Network your a$$ off. If you have a need, think outside the box. Last year I needed tutors in my classroom. I made a list of all my contacts in St. Louis and called them one by one. If you don’t have contacts in St. Louis, create some. Where do you want to have a contact? Don’t be afraid to ask. Most people want to get involved. There are SO MANY community organizations. Because of a simple ask, the SLU Black Law Students’ Association (http://slu.edu/x49158.xml) was in my classroom EVERY SINGLE WEEK. Imagine how powerful it was for my students to have black law students reading with them every week. You don’t need to know people to make something like that happen.
-VolunteerMatch (http://www.volunteermatch.org) and the Community section on Craigslist are also great places to find volunteers. If someone is volunteering in your classroom, there may be a background check or other process you need to follow with your school, so make sure you double check.
-Become a local media lover. It is a GREAT way to keep current on different events and resources.
St. Louis Magazine (http://www.stlmag.com/) I personally have found a subscription to this magazine to be totally worth it.
- Alive Magazine (http://www.alivemag.com/)
- Riverfront Times (http://www.riverfronttimes.com/) St. Louis’ alternative newspaper. Most content available online, but I believe you can pick up hard copies for free at many local businesses. I have learned about many cool events, plays, and concerts by reading this paper.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://www.stltoday.com) I suggest you at least skim this every day. If you start reading this every day starting TODAY, you will know a lot more about St. Louis when you get here.
- St. Louis American- the “voice of the African-American community” in Saint Louis. (http://www.stlamerican.com/)
- Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/st-louis) This is a great resource to find great local businesses. Looking for a hairdresser? A dry cleaner? A dentist? A romantic restaurant? This is your new best friend. Check out the “Best of Yelp” at the bottom of the home page for top businesses in the city. There is also an events page, a forum where you can ask St. Louis questions, and a mobile phone app that allows you to “check in” at businesses, many of which will give you a discount or freebie for doing so!
- Sauce (http://www.saucemagazine.com/) More food!
- Feast Magazine (http://www.feaststl.com/) St. Louis has a large (and sort of elitist) foodie culture. I think you can pick up complimentary copies of this magazine around town.
- Black Pages is a community magazine that may be a great resource for you. (http://www.blackpagesstlouis.com)
WHO TO FOLLOW
I don’t use Twitter, but if I did, I would consult the following lists for people to follow in St. Louis. There are some really interesting Twitter accounts, everyone from Gerard Craft (@GerardFCraft) to Father Biondi (@FatherBiondi… although this is a fake account intended for humor- http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/deb-peterson/article_3d5335e4-da66-11e0-af48-001a4bcf6878.html). Even our mayor uses Twitter (@MayorSlay).
Okay- so there you have it. Basically a brain dump of everything I could think of that may be of use to you. This will be a work in progress, and I hope that other corps members or alumni can share additional information that might be useful to those joining our Saint Louis family!
I am relatively new to Saint Louis, so writing this has been an exercise in the blind leading the blind, so as you discover insider tips about Saint Louis, send them my way!