ST. LOUIS – Joe Kuczka calls his mother, Jean, a hero. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society agrees with him.

The prestigious organization has posthumously recognized Jean Kuczka as the recipient of the 2023 Citizen Hero Award.

Jean, 61, was a beloved teacher at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis. She earned national attention when it was learned that she selflessly shielded her students from a gunman on the morning of October 24, 2022. Jean and a student, Alexzandria Bell, were killed.

The Kuczka family just returned from Washington, DC for the special awards program. Joe said he was taken aback by the praise for his mother’s actions.

“We were sitting at a table with two Medal of Honor recipients,” he said. “And they said they were honored to be here for us, and humbled by what my mom did, and called her a hero. And I was at a loss for words. To have these two men, describe my mom like that. I wish we didn’t have to do that. But I’m incredibly honored that we got to hear their stories. And they think my mom’s a hero.”

Joe submitted the nomination for his mother, who was selected from a pool of hundreds of Americans.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society presented the specific “Single Act of Heroism” Award to only two civilians, Jean being one of them.

The abstract on the website reads:

Jean Kuczka is selected for her singular act of heroism on October 24, 2022, when she stood in front of her students at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School as a shooter entered her classroom. Kuczka placed herself between her students and danger, in order to save innocent lives. Kuczka’s courage reflects great credit upon herself, her family, and the state of Missouri.

Joe noted that his mother touched so many lives.

Jean was a wife, mother to five children, grandmother of six children, a mentor to thousands of students, and an activist for causes dear to her heart. She was a fierce advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), an organization that became central to the Kuczka family when Joe was diagnosed with diabetes at age 10.

To hear that his mother was being named with a prestigious honor on the national level reaffirmed his respect and love for her.

“I think she would be incredibly honored to be awarded this. I think she is looking down from heaven, smiling, honored,” Joe said.