In time of no touching, teachers drive touching gesture to students

Amy Cole and her seventh-grade daughter Meghan, 12, turn out of their home in Old Suwanee Station to cheer on teachers from Roberts Elementary while they drive through nearly two dozen area neighborhoods on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee.
Amy Cole and her seventh-grade daughter Meghan, 12, turn out of their home in Old Suwanee Station to cheer on teachers from Roberts Elementary while they drive through nearly two dozen area neighborhoods on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee.

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON, CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON, CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

A week into the mandatory distance-learning days, teachers and students are admittedly feeling a little separation anxiety.

“I don’t think the kids were able to prepare themselves mentally for being away from their teachers for so long,” said Kimberly Cole whose fifth and third grade sons attend Duncan Creek Elementary. “Social media is great, but there’s some about being face-to-face that can’t be duplicated.”

With mandates for social distancing, hugs and high-five had to remain in cyberspace. But a counselor from the school remembered a video she’d seen on social media where a group of teachers formed a caravan and drove through their students’ neighborhood during a snow day. The spark of an idea caught fire, and the Gwinnett County school created a parade Monday through the largest subdivision in its area.

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"It was pretty amazing and so much fun!" said Principal Carrie Yougel. "It turned out to be so great for our kids and not that difficult to do."

The event was so successful that Roberts Elementary staff approached Principal Dion Jones about doing their own version.

Lydia Suh (from left), her daughter Rachel and Nancy Acosta, and her daughter Mei use tissue paper and pom poms to cheer their teachers from Roberts Elementary as the teachers drive through nearly two dozen area neighborhoods for some face-to-face contact while still maintaining social distance to ease the separation anxiety of their students during the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee. Although distance learning is allowing kids to connect with teachers and get lessons done, the personal touch is missing. CURTIS COMPTON CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Lydia Suh (from left), her daughter Rachel and Nancy Acosta, and her daughter Mei use tissue paper and pom poms to cheer their teachers from Roberts Elementary as the teachers drive through nearly two dozen area neighborhoods for some face-to-face contact while still maintaining social distance to ease the separation anxiety of their students during the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee. Although distance learning is allowing kids to connect with teachers and get lessons done, the personal touch is missing. CURTIS COMPTON CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

“The idea and the implementation is all teacher-driven,” he said. “They had online meetings and wanted to do something to show the students how much they are loved and missed.”

Second-grade teacher Melissa Schurke helped spearhead the event, which took place Wednesday. She sent messages to teachers and got the city of Suwanee to post it on Facebook.

As the planning grew, so did the scope. Instead of hitting one neighborhood, Roberts teachers set up the parade to snake throughout the majority of the school’s attendance zone. With an undertaking of that magnitude, they got a little help.

“This opportunity was too awesome to pass up,” said Suwanee Police spokesman Lt. Robert Thompson. “They reached out to us early in the process and we thought it was a great idea to get the police involved. Anytime we can show the positive relationships law enforcement has with the community, it’s something we try to make happen.”

As the teachers lined up their vehicles in front of the school, the giggles and grins indicated that were probably more excited than the students.

“I’m so fortunate to work for a principal who encourages teachers to teach in a way that works for them,” said Schurke.

Third grade teacher Tracy Eve flashes her sign as teachers from Roberts Elementary drive through nearly two dozen area neighborhoods for some face-to-face contact while still maintaining social distance to ease the separation anxiety of their students during the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee. CURTIS COMPTON CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Third grade teacher Tracy Eve flashes her sign as teachers from Roberts Elementary drive through nearly two dozen area neighborhoods for some face-to-face contact while still maintaining social distance to ease the separation anxiety of their students during the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee. CURTIS COMPTON CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Other staff nodded their heads in agreement as they wrote words of encouragement on their cars and taped on streamers and signs.

In all, the caravan of about 70 cars hit 20 subdivisions.

Parents appeared just as happy to see the teachers drive past as the kids.

“We love you!” shouted Nancy Acosta and her first-grade daughter Mei as they waved pom poms at passing cars with friends Lydia Suh and her second-grade daughter Rachel.

“I miss being at school,” said Rachel. “There are more friends there.”

Although Meghan Castile-Cole has moved on to middle school, she stood next to her mother, Amy Cole as they help up a sign that said, “My Mom Misses You!” Besides the seventh grader, Cole has 5-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, and 4-year-old son, Miles, at home too.

Meghan said she misses science class the most.

“We get assignments where we look at clouds or find rocks and leaves, but it’s not the same as being in the actual class.”

Will Springfield (left), 8, reacts with joy to seeing his second grade teacher Ms. Chriss pass by as teachers from Roberts Elementary hold a school parade, driving through area neighborhoods for some face-to-face contact while still maintaining social distance to ease the separation anxiety of their students during the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee. Although distance learning is allowing kids to connect with teachers and get lessons done, the personal touch is missing. CURTIS COMPTON CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Will Springfield (left), 8, reacts with joy to seeing his second grade teacher Ms. Chriss pass by as teachers from Roberts Elementary hold a school parade, driving through area neighborhoods for some face-to-face contact while still maintaining social distance to ease the separation anxiety of their students during the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Suwanee. Although distance learning is allowing kids to connect with teachers and get lessons done, the personal touch is missing. CURTIS COMPTON CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

The caravan took over three hours to make its way through the neighborhoods, but even families without kids in elementary school enjoyed the break from thinking about deadly diseases and self-quarantine.

“There’s a lot of things that they’ll miss out on — the college field trip and several celebrations for the end of their elementary school career,” said Kirsten Zingleman, fifth grade teacher. “But this is a priceless memory that I’m sure they’ll treasure.”

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