“Students + teachers = love,” read a sign taped to the outside of a car belonging to a teacher at Caroline County’s Lewis and Clark Elementary School.
That love was evident on both sides of the equation Friday morning as teachers and staff members paraded in cars through county neighborhoods to visit the students they won’t see in class for the rest of the academic year.
“We miss our babies,” said pre-K paraprofessional Joni Rozell, who organized the Lewis and Clark teacher parade with fellow paraprofessional Amanda Shire and PTA member Kerstie Irving.
“Our kids are very attached to the school and we just love them,” Rozell said.
At least 75 cars, representing Lewis and Clark teachers, administrators and bus drivers, snaked through the neighborhoods of Lake Land’Or, Lake Caroline, Countryside Apartments, Pendleton, Ladysmith Village and Campbell’s Creek.
Caroline sheriff’s deputies led the parade and brought up the rear. Teachers leaned out of car windows and stood up in sunroofs to wave to their students, while families gathered on front porches and sidewalks to wave back. Many of them held signs reading, “Thank you for helping us learn” and “We miss you!”
The school year effectively came to a halt March 23, when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all schools to remain closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Northam originally ordered schools to close for two weeks beginning March 13, so for many area teachers, March 12 was the last day they saw their students.
“Many of the staff feel very sad,” said Lewis and Clark Principal Cynthia Brown.
Teacher parades may be in the works in other area school divisions, as well. In the meantime, teachers and administrators are coming up with other creative ways to stay connected with their students.
Many schools, such as Spotsylvania’s Courtland and Chancellor high schools and Battlefield Middle School, are compiling videos of teacher messages for students to watch.
Hugh Mercer Elementary in Fredericksburg is engaging with families through its Facebook page, where students were encouraged last week to post photos of their family pets to create a virtual pet parade.
Wendy Lay, a third-grade teacher at Riverview Elementary in Spotsylvania, sent handmade cards with notes to each of her students, and Shelly Metz, an ESOL teacher at Kate Waller Barrett Elementary in Stafford County, is sending notes with pre-stamped postcards to her students so they can write back.
Jack McKinley, principal of Parkside Elementary School in Spotsylvania, is reading a chapter of “The Year of Billy Miller” each day on YouTube for students.
J.R. Raybold, principal of Conway Elementary in Stafford, is doing daily morning announcements for the Conway community, also via YouTube.
Many teachers are making phone calls to all their families.
Jennifer Greven, chorus teacher at Grafton Village Elementary in Stafford, has called all 93 of her students.
“We were supposed to have our Spring Concert [last week], so I sent a message asking them to send me pictures of them wearing their chorus shirts and we’ve been posting them on GVES Twitter,” Greven said. “I really just want students to feel like they’re still a part of our chorus and the school. Even though we are apart, we are all A PART of the whole.”
Stafford’s Hartwood Elementary School Principal Brian Raska said teachers will be calling students each week until the end of the school year.
The school also changed its marquee outside to read, “We love and miss you, Hornets! Stay safe!”
Amy Umberger, a teacher at Berkeley Elementary in Spotsylvania, said many families and teachers in her school district don’t have reliable internet, so checking in by phone is the best way to maintain contact.
“It may be hard for people who don’t work in schools to understand the emotions that a lot of us are feeling right now,” Umberger said. “My boyfriend asked how this is any different than summer break.
“It’s different because for summer break, there’s closure. We have time to close out instruction and show kids on charts and graphs the progress that they made for the year. We get to hug them and tell them we’re proud of them and to enjoy their time off and hear what their plans are.
“This was so sudden, and I don’t think anyone thought March 12 was the last day we’d see our kids for this school year,” she continued. “This is really hard on me as a teacher and I know I’m not the only one.
“You don’t get into this profession without having a heart for kids and you worry about them when you don’t get to lay eyes on them every day.”