Putting together a social-distancing school “parade” doesn’t seem to be extremely complicated: Plan a route, spread the word, decorate some cars, then drive around the neighborhoods waving to everyone.
The overall impact of a school parade in these difficult times, however, is nearly impossible to truly imagine.
Many schools throughout Utah Valley have put on such parades in recent weeks since the schools were closed as part of efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Centennial Elementary School, for example, did its parade Thursday morning and principal Shelley Schroeder described it using words like, “joy, connection and community.”
“I saw one mom crying as she walked outside to see us,” Schroeder said. “I felt it was very symbolic of what we know what these families are experiencing in their homes. We saw a lot of entire families. We saw signs that said things like, ‘Teachers should be paid more!’ and ‘Help!’ I saw multiple signs that said help. They were adorable.”
It was an experience that had tremendous value to everyone involved: educators, students and parents.
Centennial assistant principal Kristie Wheeler said the school wanted to do a parade earlier in the week, but wanted to ensure it could be done while following social distancing guidelines.
“We told everyone to stay with their families and that we would drive to them,” Wheeler said. “We have been really worried. Kids have missed being in school and missed each other. But the great thing for Shelley and I to see is that the teachers miss those kids as much or more than the students miss them. This parade is as much about our teachers and staff as the students. We’re excited for both adults and children.”
On the morning of the parade, the excitement of the educators was obvious as they each decorated their vehicles in preparation for the event. Many had family members drive so they could focus on waving to the families as they passed by.
Aided by a police motorcycle and car with flashing lights, approximately 45 cars left the parking lot at Centennial and started driving through the local neighborhoods.
Waiting for the procession — sometimes for more than an hour — were families. Many students had made their own signs to express their appreciation to their teachers and so many couldn’t contain their excitement when their own teachers drove by.
“It was emotional to see,” Wheeler said after the parade. “I had tears in my eyes on the first block.”
Many Utah Valley residents have had the same experiences with their own school parades. Hundreds have used social media to express how much those simple parades meant to their children and to themselves as both parents and teachers (see info box and sidebar).
Schroeder said that seeing everyone’s contributions to connect with each other while still being safe is a reminder of what a school community is all about.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We’re working hard in ways that we’re not really built to work. Seeing those kids reminds us why we go into education.”
For some children who are having hard times, just the boost of seeing their teacher drive by and call their name made an immediate difference.
Carol Navarrete posted on the All About American Fork Facebook page about her experience as a second-grade teacher in Orem that did a parade.
“It was so wonderful for me as a teacher!” Navarrete posted. “I love and miss my students so much!
“But because of the circumstances of so many of my students, I haven’t heard from very many of them. Their parents aren’t responding to my emails, they aren’t turning in any work digitally, and I’m so worried about them.
“I’m not worried about their school work, or academic progress. I’m worried that they don’t have food to eat, that they’re left unsupervised during the day, that their parents have lost their jobs, that they are getting evicted. I remember how scared many of them were during fire and lockdown drills at school, and I worry how they’re dealing with all this scary virus stuff. If this is heavy for me as an adult to carry on my shoulders, I worry how my littles are carrying all their worries on their little shoulders.
“Driving through their neighborhoods and seeing them made my heart so happy! There were many people who didn’t have school-aged children who came out to wave and cheer. There was not one person along the parade route who seemed grumpy or put out by the line of cars or the noise of honking cars. To the contrary, there were smiles and waves and cheers everywhere.
“For a few minutes we were able to forget the death rates and the dismal facts that we are bombarded with daily. For a few minutes we were able to connect as human beings, and say with our smiles and waves, ‘I’m so glad you’re alive and healthy.’
“It was evident that there is a strong need for human interaction. It made us all feel like part of the human race again. It gave me hope and cleared away so much of the sadness and ‘funk’ that I’ve been living in lately.
“Since the parade I’ve heard from two parents who hadn’t had any communication with me before, and I got more work turned in today (Thursday) than any other day since the schools were closed. I had no idea the parade would have such a positive effect on both students and teachers.”
The parades haven’t been completely flawless. Some schools elected to cancel parades to limit the risk of gathering while other parades had issues with drivers getting lost on the way and missing streets where kids waited anxiously to see their teachers.
But for so many who are working hard — educators, students and parents — to attempt to continue the learning process, the connection created by the parades has been invaluable.
“These teachers are probably putting in more hours now than they even were before,” Wheeler said. “We feel the heaviness in them when we talk to them. We are learning how to take care of each other socially and emotionally. Teachers are connecting more with parents. Parents are saying they don’t know how teachers have 30 kids in a classroom because they can’t handle just having four at home. We know students are missing out on a lot of learning. Our teachers love those kids.”
One of the teachers who participated in Centennial’s parade obviously felt the emotional lift of seeing her students in person — even from afar — as she beamed at her colleagues from her car and called it “the best day ever!”