Teachers at Clear Lake, Chapman Hill parade through neighborhoods to wave at students

Students wave to their Clear Lake Elementary School teachers during a parade on April 3, 2020 (Diane Beals/Salem Reporter)

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Dozens of teachers, office staff, principals and classroom aides from two Salem-Keizer elementary schools parade through the neighborhoods around their schools Friday afternoon, honking and waving at the students they haven’t seen for weeks.

With schools around the U.S. closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, videos of teachers holding parades through local neighborhoods have been widely shared, inspiring several local educators to give it a try.

At Clear Lake Elementary in Keizer, staff gathered in the school parking lot, decked their cars out in blue – the school’s color – and wrote messages in marker on the windows. Educators stayed in their vehicles and tossed markers back and forth out of windows, sanitizing them between use.

Many, eager for a reason to leave the house, yelled, cheered and honked their horns while pulling into the school parking lot.

Camden, 6, shows support as Clear Lake Elementary teachers parade through Keizer to wave to students on April 3, 2020 (Diane Beals/Salem Reporter)

Principal Artonya Gemmill said she’d spread the word on the school’s Facebook page and through emails and the district’s text message system. 

“A lot of families are excited about it. The kids miss their teachers,” she said.

Buffy Rhynes, a Clear Lake PE teacher, and Julie Ortman, the school counselor, brought up the rear of the parade on bikes. The two live near each other and often bike together. Rhynes said they planned to do the roughly 11-mile route by bike because they “enjoyed getting fresh air” after being stuck inside.

Families gathered in their driveways as the parade left the school, cheering and clapping.

First-grader Finley Worledge stood on his family’s lawn by the school with his parents, younger sister and dog, Winston. He and his sister wore paper bags turned into a makeshift sign over their shirts thanking the teachers.

“It was so nice – very thoughtful,” said his mother, Sam Worledge, of the parade. The paper bag signs were an effort to re-use leftovers from free school lunches the kids have been eating, she said.

Down the street, Ann Cole watched with her sons Austin, a Clear Lake third-grader, and Gavin, a seventh-grader and Clear Lake alumnus. 

“They took a lot of time, put a lot of effort into decorating the cars,” she said. But she couldn’t pick a favorite decoration because she was too busy watching the faces, she said.

Brielle Rodli, a Chapman Hill third-grade student, waves as her mother, a teacher, drives in the school’s parade on April 3, 2020 (Courtesy/Kailyn Rodli)

At Chapman Hill Elementary in west Salem, 44 cars including every teacher and nearly every other school employee rolled along an eight-mile route.

Teacher Diana Wanek dressed as the school mascot and spent more than an hour in the back of a truck in a cheetah suit. She volunteered for the role.

“I figured I’d sweat off a few of the extra pounds I’ve put on,” she joked.

The school has a few students undergoing cancer treatment and some with birthdays this week, so they planned the route to include their houses. They also made an effort to drive by the homes of immunocompromised kids who can’t go outside, Wanek said.

Chapman Hill teacher Diana Wanek as the school mascot during a school parade on April 3, 2020 (Courtesy/Cassandra Dickinson)

The whole area seemed to enjoy the parade, she said, even those without kids.

“Older people came out and were waving too. Cars would pull over and let us go by and they were waving out their windows,” she said.

Most of her colleagues drove with tissues in the car.

“Teachers are givers. That’s the thing. That’s our job and our wiring and our personality is to give and to love kids and that’s been taken away, which is really hard,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.