MT. PLEASANT — It was a chorus of “I Miss You” and “Can’t wait to see you again,” at the reverse parades Mt. Pleasant elementary schools held this past week.
All four buildings organized drive-by parades so students and teachers would have a chance to see each other and connect, even in the midst of the districtwide closures due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. Mt. Pleasant schools began their closure on March 16 and are expected to remain closed until at least April 10.
Kathy Shelman, a special-education teacher from Lincoln Elementary School, said doing the parade was important for keeping student-teacher relationships strong.
“It’s to let them know that we’re here for them, we love them and miss them,” Shelman said.
Many instructors had similar things to say about how the closures are also affecting teachers.
“We miss them and we’d rather be with them than where we are. It’s probably going to be like the beginning of the year again [when they come back],” Salem Elementary 4th grade teacher, Meredith Lee, said.
Lincoln Elementary Principal, Lori LaFrenz added it’s especially important to stay connected to kids during this time.
“We miss them and it’s got to be hard for them, not having their regular routine. It’s scary if you watch the news or listen to the radio. These are scary times so we just want to be here for them,” she said.
The district’s elementary school guidance counselor, Sara LeBlanc, added the thing parents should focus on in the midst of the pandemic is normalizing and stabilizing as much as possible.
“Get them into a routine at home where they’re doing some reading and writing and a little bit of math everyday. Be open and answer any questions, but also let them know that as long as we keep a healthy social distance and take precautions, we’re going to be just fine,” LeBlanc said.
She also noted students who are more prone to anxiety may be a little more worried by the disruptions.
“I think you want to listen to their concerns and answer them in an age-appropriate way with the correct facts and information. At the same time, you also need to reassure them that your job as a parent, first and foremost, is to keep them safe. You’re doing differently for a reason to keep them safe,” she said.
LeBlanc added that she feels kids will be really excited to come back to school if and when the closures end.
“Kids are going to look forward to coming back because it’ll put them back in a routine, they’ll be able to see their friends again. They’ll have to get back into the habit and that might take a while but I think most kids will be glad to be back in school,” LeBlanc said.
Kindergarten teacher Chris Snyder said in addition to the parade, many teachers have sent postcards and letters as well as stayed in touch with students through social media. Though keeping students on track and ready for the next year is important to Snyder, she is also concerned about how this will affect students outside of academics.
“I hope we make it back this year. I know there’s a possibility that we won’t but that would really be awful just to not have closure to the end of the year for us,” Snyder said, “I think we need closure. I hope parents concentrate on keeping home life a stable and loving environment and not worrying about homework right now because we don’t want kids to be traumatized by this.”
While the disruption is difficult for all students, special education teacher Heather Smith said taking students with individualized education plans (IEPs) out of routine can be especially hard.
“Especially when it comes to kids with autism, who are so used to routine, now they’re full into their summer routine and if we come back, that’s going to disrupt them. It’s the back and forth. If it was one or the other, then it wouldn’t be so bad. Or when you have parents who aren’t super equipped to run a regular routine at home. We have some families that depend on the school to have that routine,” she added.
With uncertainty around whether schools will be back in session before summer, Smith added online teaching and learning can be another hurdle for special education kids.
“It depends on the software and it also depends on the access because a lot of times, the IEP kiddos are the ones that don’t have the internet and the resources to do online work. So there will be a learning curve for some of them,” Smith said about a potential move to online learning.
If students are able to come back, teachers and principals anticipate spending much of their time making up for the lost school days.
“We’re going to come back and do reading and math hard. We’re not doing field trips, we’re not doing field days. We’re just going to come back and make sure they get enough to go to the next year,” Principal LaFrenz said.
“If we don’t come back, I don’t know what the deal is then. We need to have a whole new plan for that. We’re praying we’ll be able to come back and fill those gaps,” she added.