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Elementary schools organize 'teacher caravans' to connect with kids at home

It was just as good for the teachers as it was for their young students.
/ Source: TODAY

For elementary school students around the country, the impact of the coronavirus and school shutdowns is particularly disorienting. Parents like Carla Wong in Bellmore, New York, have found themselves struggling to explain what the virus is and why it means their children, like her Brooke, 8, cannot go back to her third grade classroom at nearby Winthrop Avenue Elementary School.

"The first day or two she was home, she thought it was cool," Wong told TODAY Parents. "Then it became boring very quickly. She misses her teachers and her friends."

Carla Wong of Bellmore, New York, said her daughter Brooke, 8, misses her friends and teachers now that they are at home in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was so excited about seeing her teachers even from a distance that she waited outside in chilly weather with her sign.Courtesy of Carla Wong

Teachers miss the students, too. In fact, around the country, elementary schools are organizing "teacher parades" to drive through the neighborhoods of their students so teachers and kids can wave to each other, see each other's faces and connect, even for just a moment.

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After being notified about the parade, parents and children in the Long Island town stood outside in their driveways and yards — at a safe distance from others, per safety regulations — some with signs for the teachers. The teachers drove past in a caravan, some of their cars decorated in balloons or signs as well.

"Brooke was so excited that she waited outside in the chilly weather ahead of time," Wong said. "She couldn't wait!"

The parade left many parents, including Wong, in tears. "These teachers don't live in Bellmore; they just teach here," she said. "To see they were willing to come out and show the kids that they missed them too was really beautiful to see."

After teachers at Shadowlawn Elementary School near Jacksonville, Florida, drove in a teacher parade through their students' neighborhood, they posted pictures on the school's Facebook page. In less than 24 hours of planning time, the caravan managed to reach seven neighborhoods with 20 cars and 31 faculty and staff members.

"Thank you so much for taking the time to do it," commented parent Carla Johnston. "Even my junior high teen enjoyed seeing his elementary school teachers while he was with his sister."

Shadowlawn third grade teacher Zoe Reavis told TODAY Parents that participating in the parade was important to her and her colleagues because "it let our kids know we missed them, we love them and we can't wait to see them again!

"When they left, we didn't say goodbye," Reavis explained. "It was just a regular Friday afternoon. They're such a big part of our lives. We just wanted to show them how much we care about them during this time."

"The teachers needed it just as much as the kids did," said Shadowlawn special education inclusion teacher Karisa Bridwell. "To see their faces, hear them yelling at us that they loved and missed us, seeing the sweet and funny signs they made for us ... it was priceless."

"I saw grown men crying because of the love that was being shown," added first grade teacher Jessica Moreland.

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Lea Andrew kept the teacher parade her son Tommy's school organized a surprise for him. At first Tommy, 7, was a little shocked to see his teachers from Dommerich Elementary School in Maitland, Florida, driving down the street, Andrew said, but then he became excited.

"He doesn't necessarily miss school yet; he's still enjoying the time off," said Andrew, whose school district was on spring break vacation last week and will officially start online distance learning Monday, March 30. "But I can tell you he would much rather be working with his teachers than with me on his schoolwork!"

Andrew said it was also neat for Tommy to get to see other kids after a week at home. "We have been sticking to the social distancing rules and not doing playdates," she said. "It was also just nice to see the teachers and know they were thinking about the kids."

Wong said that for her, the teacher parade reminded her that while so many parents are worried about their own jobs and other consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, "we forget about the kids sometimes. They don't understand what is going on, either."