CONWAY — Never has a wave meant so much.
Staffers from Conway Elementary School, John H. Fuller Elementary and Pine Tree School caravanned along local bus routes last Friday to wave to their students, who have been doing remote learning at home for more than three weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The teachers drove in cars, trucks and SUVs, while parents and students watched, waved and held signs in their driveways.
New Hampshire schools have been closed since March 16 following Gov. Chris Sununu’s orders to go to remote education at least through May 4.
John H. Fuller Principal Danielle Nutting came up with the idea for the elementary schools to connect with students who are stuck at home. It turned out to be an inspired one.
“What a fabulous time we had,” Nutting said Monday. “There were approximately 25-30 staff vehicles” following Ben Falcey, driver of John Fuller School Bus No. 2.
She added: “We were delighted to see tons of JFS students, families and alumni out along the route. Everyone was appropriately socially distanced. There were signs with positive affirmations and messages from families and students as well as staff.”
Nutting said many staff members decorated their vehicles with balloons, streamers and signs.
“Our JFS mascot, the Fuller Falcon, also joined us for the full trip,” she said.
“The feedback from families and the greater community has been overwhelmingly positive. This was a bittersweet trip through our students’ neighborhoods. There was a mutual joy and sadness among staff, students and families.”
Nutting added: “The staff at JFS recognizes the need to continue to keep the positive momentum going and is already working on developing our next community morale booster.”
Jason Robert, principal of Conway Elementary School said: “The caravan was a magical experience on so many levels. After being out of school for four weeks, it was nice to see our colleagues, students and families without staring at a screen.”
Robert said Conway El had 33 staff members participate in what he termed “the parade.”
“Vehicles were decorated with balloons, streamers, window paint and stuffed animals,” he said. “Throughout the entire parade route, students, parents and families lined the edge of their properties and public spaces with signs and big smiles to see their teachers.”
He added: “The parade was well-received across the board, and staff have already started to talk about a follow-up tour in some capacity. In a time where people are feeling isolated, opportunities like this build morale and bring positive energy to the community.”
Similar school caravans have been popping up across the nation, with students and teachers sharing signs saying how much they miss each other.
Pine Tree School staff also received a heroes’ welcome along their route in Center Conway.
“We had an amazing time,” said Principal Aimee Frechette. “The thanks we received from the parents about how special it was for their child was unbelievable; however, what I don’t think they realized was just how beneficial it was to us (the teachers and staff) as well.”
Of the students, she said: “We miss their faces tremendously, and we miss the energy they bring to our lives each and every day. We had hundreds of students and their families come out, many with signs and well wishes for the teachers who passed by. It was such a good day all around.”
Like Conway El and John Fuller, the staff at Pine Tree “decorated their cars, honked horns, rang cowbells, displayed signs of affection and yelled sentiments of love to those waiting to watch,” said Frechette.
“We have since displayed all signs in the windows of our school for all to see as they drive by,” she added.
Frechette is looking forward to future road trips with staff.
“We have plans for doing similar visits in neighborhoods over the next several weeks,” she said. “We have little gifts to secretly drop off and hope we can keep the magic of school alive even when children are forced to be at home.”