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Chaparral holds 'social distancing' parade for teachers

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and that is bittersweet news in this era of distance learning and uncertainty about the future of education. But that has not dampened the spirits of Claremont’s educators, parents and students alike as they rally to make the most of the current situation.

The idea of celebrating a teachers’ day took root around the world during the 19th century with celebrations for a local educator or an important milestone. In the United States the idea was floated around going back to the 1940s, but it would be decades before it became official. Congress declared March 7, 1980 as National Teacher Day for that year only. The National Education Association and its affiliates continued to observe Teacher Day on the first Tuesday in March until 1985, when the National PTA established Teacher Appreciation Week in the first full week of May, according to Wikipedia.

Under normal circumstances students and parents might show their appreciation by hosting a taco feast or baking cookies. But nothing is normal now not even thanking your teacher.

Signs mysteriously popped up in front of Claremont High School decorated with hearts and apples and messages of encouragement on Tuesday, which was the official national Teacher Appreciation Day. Among the more than 30 signs, selected missives included: we support you; CHS best teachers ever; #dedicated; happy teacher day; #committed; you matter; and, of course, thank you.

With the closing of school campuses and the resulting loss of physical engagement, the staff at Chaparral Elementary School were inspired to hold a “Social Distancing Parade, to Show our Love and Support.” In other words, a car parade.

The parade idea has been going around since local, state and national stay-at-home orders went into affect. However, the consensus was clear. It may be a poor replacement for actually being back in the classroom, but it was a much appreciated break in the virtual education experience.

Apparently, it was just coincidental that the Chaparral event took place during Teacher Appreciation Week. The teachers were in an unrelated Zoom meeting when the idea was hatched.

“We were talking about what we want to do to reach out and thought about a parade where the teachers go to the students,” Principal Ann O’Connor said. But they decided a reverse parade, where the students came back to campus made more sense because of Chaparral’s wide geographical area.

“Plus the students can stay safe in their cars,” Ms. O’Connor said.

Third grade teacher Sue Hohn has been meeting with her students three days a week on Zoom, with Tuesdays and Thursdays dedicated to instruction, while on Wednesdays they do yoga for physical education. But there is clearly something lacking in the online-only experience.

“It’s going to be great to see each other face-to-face,” Ms. Hohn said in advance of the parade.

Some Chaparral parents are singing the praises of their children’s teachers, particularly with the swift change over from the classroom to the computer back in March.

Deborah Kekone’s son Dante, 9, is in Mr. Hohn’s class. She says that Chaparral and Ms. Hohn have done a remarkable job in the past few weeks as everyone blazes this new trail of distance learning.

“After the three days off back in March, we did not know what to expect. But on the first day the teachers had a curriculum and we knew what to expect and what was expected of us. This process could have been overwhelming [for Dante] but the teachers made it so much easier. She [Ms Hohn] works on her own personal time, responding to emails even on the weekend,” Ms Kekone said.

“Chaparral has been amazing, there is a real sense of community. It’s like our extended family. The support we have received has been incomparable,” Ms. Kekone said.

She was definitely looking forward to the parade but admitted that getting a nine year old on task can be a challenge. “We hope to make a sign, but definitely will be there with windows down and honking to support our teachers.”

Another Chaparral parent, Tyler Owensby, is looking forward to getting out of the house with her son Andre.

“I think the kids are hitting the wall a bit and this will give them something to do. They really miss being social and they miss their friends,” she said.

Andre, 9, is in 4H and Boy Scouts, which have both switched to virtual events. She says the kids have had plenty of virtual events including birthdays.

“This will be the first in-person activity we have had,” Ms Owensby said. “It will be neat for them to see their buddies and the teachers too. And in close contact, or at least as close as we can and still be at a safe distance.”

On Wednesday just before 5:45 p.m. the school’s teachers lined up along Mills Avenue and Chaparral Drive, while maintaining a safe distance, as their students paraded by in family automobiles.

Long before the official start time, the vehicles began to line up along the curb on Mills. Once the parade began, the cars just kept on coming, long after the parade’s scheduled end. Some students rode by on bicycles or scooters, while others looped around and went by again.

The teachers held signs with messages for their students, and frankly for everyone else involved. “I miss you Roadrunners, Chaparral strong,” read one. Ms. O’Connor’s sign simply said “you are loved.”

Parents and students had decorated the sidewalk with messages of their own such as “teachers have heart.”

Principal O’Connor said that 90 percent of her staff, including 26 teachers came out to see the students. “This is fantastic she said, you can see the traffic, the cars just keep on coming.”

“It makes me want to cry,” Ms. Hohn said. “I’ve seen them on Zoom but to see them here is totally different.”






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