By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
A line of cars decorated with homemade signs and colorful balloons drove through Raeford Friday, as teachers honked and shouted out of their rolled-down windows.
“Hi! We love you!” one teacher called to young students standing on the sidewalk with their mom, as the kids waved back.
It had been weeks since the teachers at McLauchlin Elementary School had gotten to see their students, Principal David Renninger said.
“They’re really invested in the kids’ lives and they really do miss them,” he said.
The principal came up with the idea of holding the impromptu parade as a way to let the children, stuck at home until May 15 due to school closures for COVID-19, know that their teachers were thinking about them and caring for them even from a distance. Other school systems have put on similar parades to help teachers and students stay connected, Renninger said.
“I’ve seen some on social media, other schools in different states, and thought it would be perfect for us. We’re a small school and we’re downtown,” he said.
The principal brought it up at a virtual staff meeting last week, and it all came together fairly quickly. More than 30 staff members – almost everyone in the entire elementary school – turned out for the drive-through of Raeford, where most McLauchlin Elementary students live.
“I wasn’t surprised that the staff would show up, that’s how they are and they’ve shown they’re so dedicated to the students,” Renninger said.
Many of the staff members have volunteered to help with the meal deliveries on school buses just for the chance to get to say hi to their students.
“(They’ve been asking) hey can I ride a bus, I want to hand out food to my kids and surprise them,” he said.
The school contacted the Raeford Police Department to make sure it was safe and okay to hold the teacher parade. Not only was it okay, the police department helped out by providing an escort, the principal said.
“It was awesome,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created some unique challenges that none of them ever expected to have to face. But they’re working with the electronic tools they have to continue online learning even with school buildings shut down, the principal said.
It can be difficult to keep young, elementary-school-aged children on task and get them to do their work using online classrooms. It’s also challenging for parents, who still have to go to work and rely on daycares and babysitters. It’s a “new process” and teachers are still trying to figure out how much work to give, Renninger said.
There’s a lot of uncertainty because of decisions still being made at the state level, but so far everyone has pulled together even with a lot of remaining unanswered questions, the principal said.
“I think most of our parents and everybody that I’ve come into contact with they’ve been very supportive, very positive,” he said.
This year is Renninger’s first year as principal at McLauchlin Elementary; he previously served as an assistant principal at Sandy Grove Elementary. For a number of the teachers at McLauchlin Elementary, it’s their first year teaching. Due to the school shutdown, the experience has become especially memorable for them all.
“Next year will be a little bit simpler,” Renninger said.
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