By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

With pom-poms, posters, lawn chairs and even a bubble machine, teachers from St. Theresa of Avila School in Gonzales lined up their cars, trucks and SUVs in an empty parking lot across from the school for a special drive-by to wave at parents and students, whom they hadn’t seen face-to-face in more than a month.  

st. theresa photo 1.tif

Teachers and administrators of St. Theresa of Avila School in Gonzales and St. John Primary School in Prairieville lined up to wave and hold up signs of encouragement as they greeted students in a drive-by in front of their schools on April 22. Teachers said they missed their students and were sad to learn they would not see them again as the 2019-2020 school year came to a close because of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator   

 

“It’s been emotional, especially the last week, learning we would have to spend the rest of the year without them,” said fifth-grade teacher Sabrina Luke. “Prior to that we had a lot of hope that we would go back.”  

One by one, from 6 to 7 p.m. on April 22, vehicles filled with family members and sometimes even the family dog, drove slowly through the makeshift parade ground. Happy sounds of laughter and greetings filled the air. Some curious drivers passing by rolled down their windows to ask what was happening.  

“It’s been really hard, we miss them a lot,” said fifth-grade teacher Megan Johnson. “(There’s been) a lot of adjusting … sad way to end the school year.”  

One boisterous family honked their horn and threw candy from their pick-up truck as they drove through, delighting the teachers as they scrambled to pick it up – reminiscent of a favorite Louisiana holiday, Mardi Gras. 

As teachers held up signs, waved and greeted students, some students held up their own homemade signs, showing their support and love for their teachers.  

“You don’t realize how much you miss each other … and they made signs and we made signs,” said Johnson. 

“I didn’t expect them to make signs,” said Luke with a smile.  

Lizette Leader and her children Claire, who is in fifth grade, and Kade, an eighth-grader, were among the parade of families who came to see their teachers. Leader, who works from home, said her husband is considered an essential worker and trying to find the right balance between school work, job duties and home life has been difficult. But she credits teachers and school administrators with being a big part of making the transition easier. </span id=”9″>

“Anytime a parent has a question, any time a student has a question, they immediately get back to us and they’ve been very available to our students,” said Leader. “They offered to provide training for the parents as well as the students, so everybody has made this the best situation possible in a very unfortunate time for us.”  

Leader’s son had been very involved with extracurricular activities during his final year at St. Theresa, including student council, Beta Club and playing on the basketball and baseball teams. His class will still be able to hold its graduation ceremony albeit sometime this summer. Still, he was happy to see friendly faces, even if just for a few minutes.  

“I’ve been missing my teachers,” said Kade Leader. “I’ve seen a couple of my friends so far, so even though we can’t interact with them because we have to practice social distancing, it still is nice to see them.” 

St. Theresa principal Chris Musso said the idea for the drive-by visit came after a school staff member shared on social media a similar event for her birthday, with friends driving by her house holding signs and wishing her a happy birthday. Musso added that teaching through technology has been “surreal.” She noted that seeing students through various online platforms is not the same as seeing them face-to-face and connecting with them on a personal level.  

“The teachers are as affected as the students are in missing one another,” said Musso. “It’s natural that kids miss their friends and so forth, but we as teachers are so used to seeing these children, interacting with these children, getting to know these children, it is a really big void in your life at the moment.”  

Kim Naquin, principal of St. John Primary in Prairieville, agreed. With students ranging from prekindergarten to third grade, Naquin said there was a “major learning curve” for teachers, students and parents when the governor issued the stay-at-home order in mid March. She said up to that point students had computer class once a week and had worked on iPads but not one-to-one.  

“I’m really proud of my teachers for how quickly they adjusted and how positive they were about doing this and I think that stems from how much they care about these kids and how much they care about their education,” said Naquin. “And so, they were willing to jump out of their comfort zones and learn how to do this technology.”  

She said parents also had to jump on board because “a first-grader can’t sit down at the family computer and just figure it out.” So, the first couple of weeks dealt with a lot of technology issues but, she said, the hard work has paid off.  

“These kids have learned so much technology in the last several weeks and that is definitely the silver lining for me, both the students and the teachers have learned a lot of technology and I’m really excited about it,” said Naquin.  

As for seeing the kids and parents again for the drive-by event, Naquin said everyone was excited, from teachers to parents and students. Even anticipation of connecting with the students made for some happy moments in a world that has changed so much so quickly.  

“I don’t think I’ve smiled this much since we’ve started working from home,” said Naquin.