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Dallas teachers throw neighborhood car parade for cooped-up students

William Schmidt, 7, and Lochlyn Schmidt, 5, at the teachers' parade in Dallas. (Katie Schmidt)

On Monday afternoon, children and parents stood in front of their homes in a north Dallas neighborhood excitedly holding homemade signs and pompoms. They waited along the sidewalk like avid sports fans. But instead of supporting their hometown team, they were cheering on their favorite teachers.

Teachers from Prestonwood Elementary School threw a car parade for their students who were stuck at home because of coronavirus precautions.

“They’re coming!” yelled a young boy on a bike as the first car crawled down the street at 4 p.m. Car horns blared while children called out their teachers’ names and held up their homemade signs. The normally quiet street in the Prestonwood neighborhood was filled with people — keeping to safe distances — laughing and yelling kind words to each other.

The teachers and staff maintained safe space from others by riding in their own vehicles with family members driving or accompanying them.

As the parade looped through the neighborhood, teachers waved and blew kisses, yelling out: “I miss you so much!” “Make sure you’re reading!” and “We will get through this together.”

One teacher gave a special shout out: “Hang in there, mommas!”

“There was an overflowing of emotion seeing the kids that we couldn't give hugs to for over a week,” said first-grade teacher Jennifer Winn, who organized the parade.

The day before the big event, she pulled up a map outlining the zoning of the school and created a route that would cover every third or fourth street while staying off main streets.

The parade was announced on the school’s Facebook page with a map of the route. Teachers encouraged families to join in as spectators, but to practice social distancing. Winn and her husband drove the route beforehand to make sure it flowed.

Families abided by the six-feet apart rule, as classmates waved at their friends a few houses down and across the street.

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“The kids haven’t seen each other in a while,” said Maikke Ohlson, the mother of a fifth-grader and a second-grader. “They were supposed to go back to school today, but since they were unable to, the teachers decided to have a parade.”

Parents, including Katie Schmidt, the mother of two children, 5 and 7 years old, spent Monday morning helping their children make signs and posters.

“My children love their teachers and truly feel sad when they don't get to see them,” she said.

Signs along the route read, “I miss you” and “I love you!” and included teachers’ names. One father proudly displayed his own sign: “You are a much better teacher than me!”

Along with posters, the students drew pictures and wrote chalk messages on the sidewalk for their teachers to see. Sidewalks throughout the neighborhood had been converted into canvases of colorful artwork and mini-billboards filled with words of affection.

From her car in the parade, third-grade teacher Rebecca Sylestine searched along the route for familiar faces and called out to her current and former students.

“I told them I missed them and would see them soon,” she said. “Just to give them reassurance.”

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In addition to driving past single-family homes, the caravan maneuvered through nearby apartment complexes so teachers would reach as many of their students as they could.

“Seeing faces digitally is nice,” said vice principal Aaron Ward. “But something about personal connection, just seeing each other like that, keeps us from taking each other for granted.”

When the last car passed and the lingering families made their way home, parents and children felt full of love and hope, if only for a time.

“Seeing his teacher and hearing her yell ‘Hi, Will! I miss you!’ really lifted him up,” said Schmidt about her 7-year-old son. “It let him know that while school looks a bit different at the moment, his teacher is still there for him.”

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