If there were any questions whether St. Peter elementary students and their teachers were missing each other, those questions were answered May 7.
North Elementary, South Elementary, and the Early Childhood Center hosted the first-ever St. Peter Public Schools Saints Strong reverse parades, with staff at all three buildings on hand to greet students and their families. The event was an unqualified success, as hundreds of vehicles — filled with students, families and community members — lined up the roads to drive by each building and greet teachers and administrators.
The high rate of participation saw some vehicles lined up for a good hour, as they patiently waited their turn to show support for their schools. At each school building, there seemed to be no end in sight.
“Oh my goodness, we had a wonderful turnout,” South Elementary Principal Doreen Oelke said. “We didn’t think to count cars, but we just really wanted to have an event that was good for everyone’s soul … The kids were excited to see the teachers, and the teachers are in this profession to see these kids. So to go months without seeing the kids, this was meant to be a mood booster.”’
Community members said the goal was achieved.
On Facebook, Terri Stratton-Hickey commented, “What a heartfelt moment for all of us! I loved it!! Helped us feel connected.”
And Savannah Peters wrote, “Thanks so much for doing this! My first grader (and preschooler who knows many of the teachers and staff) loved seeing everyone. I made it to the last person in line before I cried like a baby. So bittersweet. Thanks again to all of you who put this together!”
Teachers loved the experience, too.
It was great seeing all the kids smiling,” Mary Ceplecha said. “Myself, as a para, and all the rest of the teachers really enjoyed doing this little parade.”
Oelke joked that it was the first time her school was able to avoid a traffic jam.
“We’re landlocked over here at South, and traffic is always crazy around our school at the beginning and end of the days,” she said. “In this case we were able to loop people down the wrong way on our driveway and out onto Washington. We were able to direct traffic smoothly for the first time ever here.”
Congestion or not, the event seem to be filled with nothing but joy at all three schools.
“You could just see on the kids’ faces and the teachers’ faces that they just missed each other,” Oelke said. “There were tears; there was laughter; it was just incredible.”
She added, “For me, it will go down as one of most memorable moments. It’s kind of that little bit of hope, and that’s what we were hoping to do.”
The coronavirus pandemic led to the closure of schools statewide in Minnesota (and many other places), as distance learning has been implemented, keeping students at home. While virtual tools have been used to connect students, teachers and administrators, the level of separation is abnormal and has been a strain for many.
Everyone has needed to be adaptable and selfless in dealing with the changes.
“I started teaching in 1985. This is my sixth year at South,” said Oelke. “I think it’s that perfect example of ‘Persepctive is everything.’ We used to think consecutive snow days are troublesome, and now we think, ‘Oh, bring that on.’ Did I ever see anything like this coming? No. But I’m incredibly proud of staff, who have rolled up their sleeves. We had never used SeeSaw and we’re using that; the district came up with devices to share; our students who needed internet, we got hotspots to them. Our cultural liaisons made sure all families could keep up, no matter whether they speak English.”
The reverse parades were just another example of the district community making the best of a tough situation.
“I’m so proud to be part of a district that is taking care of kids,” Oelke said.