DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (The Livingston Parish News) — For the first time in nearly two months, a line of cars stretched from the carpool lane at Northside Elementary.
On this sunny Saturday morning, Northside staff had gathered for a parade that would take them through several neighborhoods in Denham Springs. For many of the teachers and administrators, it would be their first chance to see their students in six weeks, back before schools were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Once at Northside, teachers got out of their cars to stretch their legs and swap stories of their own quarantine experiences. Some took pictures with each other, while others made last-minute adjustments to their decorated vehicles, many of which had balloons and posters with phrases such as “We Miss You” or “Northside Panthers Rock.”
Before setting off, Livingston Parish Public Schools Superintendent Joe Murphy walked up and said a prayer over the entire group, which was being escorted by deputies from the Denham Springs Police Department.
“This is for our schools and our communities,” Murphy said. “We’re all in this together.”
Over the last two months, several Livingston Parish schools have organized their own parades through their communities as the state continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The new disease, among a long list of other restrictions, has closed schools across the state for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, meaning students won’t be on a campus for at least five months — that is, if they return as currently scheduled in early August.
Murphy has called the last month and a half “uncharted territory” for Livingston Parish teachers and administrators, who have been forced to come up with new ways to reach their students and make sure education continues.
For the last six weeks, teachers have had to make paper packets, upload assignments to online platforms, teach in video conferences, answer phone calls about homework, and even help parents adapt to the changes.
“This is our new reality,” Murphy said in a recently recorded discussion with the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce.”
But not only has the current situation placed an extra burden on teachers’ professional lives, it has put a strain on their emotional lives, too. For many teachers, not seeing their students everyday has been as difficult as teaching from a distance.
That — coupled with everyone’s desire to get out of the house — has made these faculty parades a bittersweet ride.
“I cried the whole way through the parade because it’s just been devastating that we can’t be with our kids,” said Whittany Starns, instructional coach at Northside Elementary.
At Northside, teachers and administrators drove through several neighborhoods and apartment complexes, where they were greeted by students holding up their own handmade signs from sidewalks or truck beds.
One boy, Aries Teasdale, was celebrating his sixth birthday when teachers rolled by him on Cockerham Road, shouting “happy birthday” as they passed. Teasdale held up a brightly-colored sign he made himself, hoping to catch the attention of his kindergarten teacher, Kelli Lee.
Starns said she saw many of her current and former students during the parade, including one Denham Springs High School senior who made a poster saying he loved her. She called it a “special moment.”
“It was really special seeing him and all the other former students,” Starns said. “We had babies waiting with signs for us, and they kept waving at us when we went by. It was just good to see everyone. This has been hard on all of us.”
Last month, Frost School held its own parade that lasted for about 2 ½ hours, according to teacher Charity Hardy. The procession was led by a fire truck from the local fire station as well as deputies from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, who blocked off roads for the parade of cars to safely pass.
Most of the Frost faculty participated in the parade, including cafeteria workers and custodians. One bus driver even arrived in her bus — specially decorated for the occasion — and yelled out words of encouragement through a loudspeaker she set up.
Hardy, a Title I teacher who works with students in grades K-5, said she rode in the parade with her two children, who were given a chance to see some of their teachers and fellow students on what she described as “a very touching day.”
“It was very emotional,” she said. “We get used to seeing our students daily and now we haven’t seen them for a long time. We miss them. But that’s what made this a very touching day. We’ve all just missed each other.”
Even though more than a month has passed since Eastside Elementary held its parade, kindergarten teacher Toni Bourg couldn’t help but get choked up when she started thinking back to that day, which she can “vividly remember.”
“I’m actually crying right now thinking about it,” she said in a phone call with The News Thursday.
During Eastside’s parade held April 4, Bourg said her family of four loaded up in their car, opened the sunroof, and turned up the music as they made their way through the nearby neighborhoods.
She remembers seeing about 18 of her 25 students during the parade, and they all recognized her.
“It was very emotional for me to see my babies waving to me,” Bourg said. “They’re not forgetting us, and we’re not forgetting them.
“It was just an overwhelming day of emotion.”
David Gray | The News