With the closure of schools and the continuation of the quarantine, many educators and local municipalities are finding a new way to spread some cheer and hope. From teachers on parade to Easter Bunny drive-bys, communities are showing a new way of caring.
Recently, Portage's Aylesworth Elementary School teachers and staff gathered together and paraded through the neighborhoods, honking and waving at their students and families as children stood in their yards holding up signs with words of encouragement.
Kindergartner, Eva Smith came out with her grandmother Cindy Jagiela, who is the kitchen manager at Aylesworth to wave to her teacher, Ms. Beukema. While Eva only had yeses and nos to share, her grandmother filled us in on what this parade means to the community.
"I'm excited to see the teachers and staff, I think the lifted her (Eva's) spirit. I know they lifted mine! It was so nice that they did this," Jagiela said.
Teachers and school staff love their students, and with the closures of school until at least May 1, they are missing them. Likewise, students are missing their teachers and school staff, so when Evers saw a Facebook post about a different school that had hosted a parade, he knew the teachers and staff at Myers Elementary had to do one, too.
“Today was important because we wanted to show to all our students that we are thinking about them, and we miss them,” said Jon Evers, Myers Elementary School Principal.
“It seemed like it had a great impact on the students and wasn’t something that would be too hard to put together and would really mean a lot to the kids and the staff,” Evers said. “The parade is just a great opportunity for us to give back to our community.”
During this difficult time, educators have successfully shifted to e-learning and have been keeping in contact with their students through phone calls, emails, and video conferencing. But fostering successful learning is much more complex.
“E-learning days are great in the fact that they allow academics to continue, but the social-emotional side of human interactions is something that cannot be replaced. Seeing all the smiling faces, signs, and tears of joy was contagious, in both the students and staff,” Evers said.
The parade was a boost to morale as students and families lined the streets at safe distances, holding signs full of words of encouragement and cheer. It was a much-needed sign to everything that things will be OK.
“We’re so excited to get to interact with them during this kind of scary time. We’re trying to make the best of it and keep everything as positive as possible,” Evers said.
Portage Township Schools have been hard at work to keep students engaged and as positive as they can while they are at home. They have encouraged students to write messages in chalk on their sidewalks for Chalk the Walk, and have been reading books to them and sharing the videos, providing food and meals to students in need, and so much more. Tuesday’s parade was just one more small way that local educators could brighten the day for the students, and themselves.
“I was truly touched and humbled to get to work alongside so many caring individuals willing, in fact, eagerly excited, to give up their time to see all of our students,” Evers said. “Myers as well as all of Portage Township Schools is dedicated to kids. It is at the forefront of all we do.”
The love and dedication that Myers teachers, staff, students, and families showed toward each other is a shining example of how communities are supporting each other however they can during these times.
Two elementary schools in Michigan City also joined the nationwide trend of forming caravans to reach out to their students.
Coolspring Elementary held their Coolspring Caravan on March 23. Abby Vittatoe, 3rd grade teacher, had seen other schools doing neighborhood parades on Facebook. She immediately shared the idea with her fellow staff members. Kathy Schroll, Coolspring Secretary, created the route through Coolspring country.
“Coolspring teachers and staff think of ourselves as an extended family to our students. We want Abby Vittatoe, 3rd grade teacher, to remind them that even though we can't see them at school every day, we are thinking about them while we're all at our own homes,” said Coolspring principal Kimberly Palmer.
“Most of them don't understand what is happening in their community, let alone the entire United States and world, so they may be experiencing stress and anxiety. We are hoping this gesture reminded them how much we care about them,” Palmer said.
Springfield Elementary hosted their parade on March 24. Kindergarten teacher Anise Williams spearheaded the idea, and through a virtual meeting the staff decided to move up their caravan date because the state stay-at-home order fell into place shortly after it was decided.
“We thought it was important to reach as many of our students as possible, so we visited 13 of our neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and trailer parks along with traveling many miles of our roads,” said Springfield Elementary principal Lisa Emshwiller.
“We wanted our students to know that we will come to them because they mean that much to us. We miss our students so very much, and I know they miss being with their teachers and support staff as well. Teachers and support staff are such an important part of the lives of students. Classes have met virtually, but it isn't the same as seeing someone face to face,” Emshwiller said.
The staff decorated their cars, and School Resource Officer Scott Combs and a Michigan City Police officer escorted them.
“Seeing the joy on our students’ faces made it so worthwhile,” Emshwiller said. “Many of our students and families made signs or wrote in chalk on driveways. One family performed a song as we went by! I believe the staff gained as much from the Sharks on Parade as our students and families did.”
Staff members posted videos and pictures on Facebook so families that weren't able to participate could enjoy the parade as well. Despite the extended stay-at-home order, the Springfield team is trying to stay in close contact with families. Staff make phone calls, send emails, set up group and individual chats with students, and post on Facebook regularly.
“We started having morning announcements once a week to keep some form of routine up. Birthdays are announced on the video since that is something our students definitely looked forward to when we were in school. We have also started having videos of read-alouds by staff members, as well as virtual spirit days,” Emshwiller said.
Springfield is one of many schools across the nation trying to enrich this unprecedented time for students.
“it isn't the same as being in school at all, but we are trying to make the separation bearable. We adore our students and truly miss them. We can't wait to get back!” Emshwiller said.
“I also want to add how appreciative I am to all of the teachers and support staff that participated in the Sharks on Parade. I am so fortunate to have an amazing and caring staff. The students miss the adults at school because of the wonderful people they are. Springfield is a great place to be.”
Kyle Elementary school in Portage also took the opportunity to connect with their students, from the safe distance of their vehicles, and spread some cheer.
The Chesterton Police and Fire Departments received a special visit from the Easter Bunny and helped him deliver candy and waves to local children. Riding atop a fire engine, Mr. Bunny spread some holiday cheer.
" Thank you so much for bringing the Easter Bunny through our neighborhood! Definitely the highlight of our week," Karen Hardwick wrote on the Chesterton Police Department Facebook page.
The Easter Bunny was also spotted in Munster. With the help of the Munster Fire Department, he was able to "visit" Munster residents.
" YOU ARE THE COOLEST! My kids were literally trembling with excitement. We will be talking about this for weeks," Jen Dillingham wrote on the Munster Fire Department's Facebook page.
Mr. Bunny also hopped on over to the Lake Station Fire Department where he was paraded through the city for the kids to wave hello.
" Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who was driving today! It really made my family's day to be able to see the Easter bunny! Good job Lake station!" Britt Herald posted on the Lake Station Fire Department's Facebook page.
Stay tuned for more fun ways our communities are taking to the streets and spreading some cheer!