TREMONTON – By Cari Doutre – March 30, 2020
McKinley Elementary School Principal, Corynn Arehart, stated, “like most ideas, your ideas are generated from something you see or hear. Then the idea turns into a great idea when people get excited and want to do it.”
The idea was simple – put as many teachers and staff members at McKinley Elementary in Tremonton on a parade to wave, say hello and most importantly, see students in a safe and social distancing way.
This was exactly what they did on Friday, March 27, 2020.
It started as a Facebook post that Vicky Litchford, a teacher at McKinley Elementary, tagged Arehart in. The post was about a school on the east coast that held a school parade after schools were dismissed during a school closure to prevent the spreading of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Utah public schools are in the exact situation. A school dismissal, or soft closure, has been in place since March 16, 2020.
After Arehart first brought the idea to the attention of staff and teachers, more and more people at the school started to show excitement over having a parade. From there the idea became reality and brought a much-needed light to the lives of many students.
“I sent out an email to get interest and the response was huge,” Arehart recalled. “They wanted to do this!”
A map was drawn out for the parade route. The route was set to cover as big an area hitting where a majority of students live in the southern part of Tremonton and outlining rural communities. The parade route was aimed at covering as much of McKinley Elementary School’s boundaries as possible.
Teachers, staff and even Corby, the school’s mascot (a cougar), got in on the fun during the parade. Teachers covered their vehicles with messages of support and love while students and parents made their own signs for teachers and staff to see.
Students and their families came out in full force. They stood on their front lawns waving to the parade goers and got a glimpse of the teachers they haven’t seen in over two weeks - and won’t see until at least May 1. It was all done in a responsible social distancing way.
But for the teachers, it meant just as much to them to see those smiling, happy and healthy faces.
“The parade was so much fun! It was great to see the kids again and give them something to look forward to. It was so sweet to see the signs they made for us,” said Shiloh Reese, a teacher at McKinley Elementary.
That was exactly what students and teachers got – smiles and happiness during a bleak time.
“This parade brought purpose to our day. Seeing the smiles on the students’ and communities’ faces made for a great day,” Arehart said. “With all the heavy things that have been taking place, moving from public schooling to crisis schooling, things have felt very heavy. We need a light and a purpose to look forward to.”
Signs ranged from uplifting to a perfect mix of sarcasm and humor. It was all an effort to make light of the current situation and bring happiness to the McKinley Elementary family and community.
The love and community support were felt all around.
“McKinley Elementary means a lot to us. Their entire staff is made up of amazing people that really care about each of their students. We feel so lucky that our kids are being taught by some of the best people around,” said Kaitlyn Solis, a parent of McKinley Elementary students.
Solis wasn’t the only parent that appreciated the effort of McKinley Elementary school.
“My kids had a blast seeing their teachers, principal, librarian and even the school mascot,” said Jessica Tanner, a parent of a first-grade student at McKinley Elementary. “They got to wave to a bunch of people they have been missing so much. All of this has really helped us see how much our school cares about the kids. We have wonderful teachers who really go above and beyond the call for our youth.”
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“Our kids were thrilled about the car parade, they missed everyone so much, so they loved seeing all those familiar faces and being able to exchange smiles, waves and ‘I miss you’s.” It really was a fun way to reconnect, bring some comfort to these kids and let them know they care,” added Solis.
The idea was simple but had far reaching results, for adults and children.
“It was a light in this mist of unknown. To hear the kids saying our names, holding signs, waving parents and friends, us waving to the kids and sharing smiles, made all the planning worth every minute,” added Arehart.
Sarah Brown, another McKinley Elementary parent and employee of the school, echoed those feelings.
“The mood has been very somber, and every teacher has said how much they have missed the kids,” Brown said. “Some of the teachers even went over to help pass out lunches just to be able to see their kiddos.”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced on Monday, March 23, that the state is extending the soft closure date to May 1, 2020, adding several weeks to the original two-week dismissal that started on March 16.
All public schools in Utah have switched to online, or homeschooling, methods of learning for students.
“This parade brightened our day, more than I could have ever imagined. It was priceless. It was fun. The best part was seeing the students. Our halls have been too quiet and there is a huge sad hole at school. Our students fill this hole and it was so great to see them,” Arehart said.
“It gave everyone a reason to laugh, celebrate, smile and see each other (from a distance),” she added.