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Teacher who loved ‘making a difference’ identified as victim of St. Louis school shooting

Jean Kuczka, a 61-year-old  health and physical education teacher, was one of the victims of the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. She had been with the St. Louis Public Schools since 2002.

Abbey Kuczka
Teacher Jean Kuczka was one of the victims of the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Monday. She was an athlete and taught physical education and health.

One of two people shot and killed Monday at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School is being remembered as a passionate teacher who loved helping kids take care of themselves and their health.

Jean Kuczka, 61, taught health and physical education at the magnet school. She had been with St. Louis Public Schools since 2002 and taught for 18 years before that at Seven Holy Founders, a Catholic school in south St. Louis County that is now a campus of Holy Cross Academy.

“Her passion is helping kids,” her daughter Abbey said Monday afternoon. “She loved making a difference, informing students and the younger generation about health and being healthy, and playing sports and working as a team.”

Kuczka played field hockey at Lindbergh High School and graduated in 1979. She went on to win a scholarship to play at Missouri State and was on the 1979 national championship team.

In her biography on the SLPS website, Kuczka said she discovered her love of teaching in high school as a YMCA swim coach.

“I believe that every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn,” Kuczka wrote. “I also believe that health is the most awesome subject in school, because, without your health, you cannot live to your fullest potential.”

Besides teaching her classes at Central, Kuczka was coaching cross-country at Collegiate.

“I can't believe the evil in the world and that going to school is not even a safe place for people to work or for children to go to,” her daughter added. “I just feel like as a school system in all of the United States that we could do better to prepare for things like this so they stop happening.”

In a post on Facebook, Jasmine Wooten, a former student, remembered Kuczka as a teacher who supported her well into adulthood.

“I am SO sick and tired of hearing about these babies being sent to school and not coming home,” wrote Wooten, who is currently an intake specialist at the St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute. “I am saddened and disappointed that in this day and age we have to talk about teachers who have to both educate and become first responders. Her grace and her kindness extended well beyond the four walls of class and she will be missed.”

State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley had Kuczka as a gym teacher at Carr Lane Middle School.

“This hits home,” shewrote on Twitter. “Rest well, Ms. Kuczka. Thank you for everything.”

Kuczka is survived by her husband, Steve; five children and six grandchildren.

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.