NEW LONDON, Mo. | A Ralls County Elementary School teacher's idea to show students how much they care during their time apart amid the COVID-19 pandemic soon turned into happy experiences in Center, New London and Perry as staff and faculty members exchanged warm greetings and signs of compassion during Friday parades.
First-grade teacher Ashley Gottman reached out to Principal Natalie Gibson and Assistant Principal Joni Crossgrove about a “social distancing parade” on March 27. Staff members and Mark Twain Junior High School Principal Delores Woodhurst joined the effort, and Ralls County Chief Deputy Ron Haught approved the event. From there, School Resource Officer and fellow Sheriff's Deputy Chris Walotka made sure the routes were secure and ready for children, parents and school faculty and staff members eager to show how much they missed each another from their vehicles.
As the parade made its way down Main Street in New London, teachers drove by, many of them waving from decorated vehicles and showing colorful signs that they love their students and miss them during this uncertain time.
Skylar Anderson cradled nine-month-old Laine Anderson as she held a sign up with a blue tiger paw and the message “We miss you!” First-grade student Saige Anderson and pre-K student Jaice Anderson waved and said hello through the open moonroof of the family vehicle.
“I think it's great that they are trying to keep everybody's morale up and overcome the social distancing we're all dealing with and keeping everybody smiling,” Skylar Anderson said. Saige said she enjoyed the chance to gather for the special event.
“We got to see our friends,” she said, pointing out that everyone was staying safe and not touching one another.
Saige and Jaice waved and said hi as teachers drove by, and the chance to connect brought smiles for everyone who attended the parades.
“COVID-19 has caused Ralls County R-II to close our buildings, but not our schools to learning. Our teachers are continuing to connect with students using new methods,” Superintendent Tara Lewis said. “We are thankful for the support our community is exhibiting. Today's parade offered everyone a chance to reconnect and most of all to smile.”
The experience made a lasting impact for Gibson. She said the past three weeks have been among the most difficult times she has experienced in education, but she said the parades were “good for my heart and soul.”
“I am so proud of the way the communities came together in support of this event and know it would not have been as successful without the support of our county sheriff's office,” Gibson said. “My hope is that we brought joy, not only to our students, but to the residents of our communities, and maybe even the strangers we met along the way who kindly pulled over and waved and honked at us as if we were old friends. It's a great day to be a tiger!“