GRANITEVILLE — With car horns blaring and arms waving, Graniteville Elementary teachers drove through main streets, backstreets and alleyways – about 15 streets in all – Tuesday morning to let their students know they care.
Not even a little mist and fog could rain on their “teachers' parade” or dampen their enthusiasm and community spirit for a community school.
A caravan of about 20 cars and SUVs, many sporting signs with the message “We Love and Miss You” and decorated with blue and green balloons, the school's colors, traveled from one side of town to the other with the message they're thinking about their students, who will be out of school at least through the end of April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And along the route, students and their families and friends, spaced at the appropriate social distance, responded with big smiles, loud cheers and waves of their own. Delivery trucks honked in support, and dogs barked their approval.
“We're going to visit as many students as we can throughout our neighborhoods and just honk at the kids, wave at them and let them know we miss them and we're thinking of them,” said Katie Craig, a fourth-grade teacher at Graniteville Elementary who helped coordinate the parade. “We don't want the kids to think we've forgotten about them. We would much rather be here at the school teaching them than seeing them from computer screens or video chats and texting them and on ClassDojo.”
Almost every teacher participated.
“This is a great faculty. We really miss the kids, and we really want to be at work,” Craig said.
Craig said distance learning is working “as well as can be expected” and, as a benefit, it allows students to share a little more of their lives outside the classroom.
“They want to talk,” she said. “I had 10 kids on with me this morning. When I asked, no one needed help with school work, but they wanted to talk and show me their rooms or their fossils. They said they like being home in their pajamas, and that's what I said, 'Me, too.'”
Principal Michelle Padgett said seeing their teachers might help students feel like their lives during the shutdown are just a little more normal.
“So many of their students are telling them they miss them or they wish they could come to school,” she said. “The teachers just wanted the kids to see their faces and to know that everything is OK, and they miss the kids, too.
“Last week, I heard one of the teachers who rode the buses to deliver lunches say that a grandmother told her that her grandchild had been really nervous and scared, but when she saw her teacher on the bus giving out lunches, she was, like, there's my teacher, everything's OK. If that's what it takes to make them feel like everything is going to be OK, that's great.”
The teachers scheduled the parade at the same time school buses were delivering meals to students and followed the state's recommended social distancing guidelines.
“We're asking our aides as they deliver lunches to remind the students to separate because they all want to come in big crowds, but we want them to space themselves out,” she said.
Anna Evenson, the school counselor at Graniteville Elementary, said Padgett and Assistant Principal Clyde Jobes set a goal for themselves and all faculty and staff to stay in contact with their homeroom classes and their students and to reach out to at least 20 students every week while they're at home distance learning.
“We just want to show the students we care about them, we're thinking about them and we love them,” Evenson said.
And for students, Evenson offered this message.
“First, I'd say I love you guys and I miss you guys terribly. Everybody dreams of having a few days off from school, but no one ever dreamed of this,” she said. “I also would just say it's important to follow the rules that the governor and the state have set but also to listen to your Mom and Dad. Make sure you focus on your school work but also enjoy your time home with your parents and siblings. Stay safe, and we hope you're back soon.”
Community members shared their thanks for the teachers' parade on the Graniteville Elementary Facebook page.
“Just saw the teachers go by my house. It was wonderful to see. Thanks for loving your students enough to do this for them,” one person wrote.
“Like a shot of B-12,” another responded.
“This is absolutely wonderful. The small things are what are making less stress for children and all of us. Thank you to all of the ACPS teachers,” another wrote.
And another writer summed it up in two words: “Graniteville Rocks!”