On Friday, Mandy Yom, a kindergarten teacher in a suburb outside Chicago, finally got some good news.
Her school would be able to celebrate the end of the term.
“Just got the word we can do a car parade,” Yom wrote in a message. “Our kindergarten students are leaving our building. … They should be celebrated!”
Yom, who works in a public preschool, will also give her students a friendship bracelet with a note that says: “I miss you! As we say goodbye for now, remember that no matter where we go, and no matter what we do, you will always have me and I will always have you.”
The children and their families will also watch a “memory movie” over Zoom and the children will receive little diplomas, and, if she can find them, little mortarboards. They’ll also receive a “memory box” with the projects from the year and gifts for the summer such as sidewalk chalk and beach balls.
As a school year for the history books winds down, teachers across the United States are finding ways to demarcate a rite of passage, albeit muted and from a distance. This includes parades, talent shows, drive-by hellos and personalized gifts from teachers who have already had to shoulder an abrupt adjustment to their workload and lifestyle for the past few months.
Katrina Waidelich, a teacher at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in San Diego, will greet her fifth-graders as they drop off their computers on a socially-distanced schedule.
“I’m going to have goody bags with fun things related to books we read,,” Waidelich said. “I’m also including a ‘make lemonade out of lemons’ kit to remind them to be positive.”
At William M. Meredith School in Philadelphia, principal Lauren Joy Overton oversees a school with 530 students from kindergarten to eighth grade.
The school will have a digital moving-up ceremony, shown during a viewing party, Overton said. Each child will get to speak at the pre-taped ceremony, Overton said. The school couldn’t have its full blown performance of “The Wizard of Oz,” this year, but will be able to do an abridged version on video as well.
“It’s a big part of our school’s identity,” Overton said, noting that about 100 students participate in the musical.
At Crossroads school in Santa Monica, Calif., high school creative writing teacher Abby Chew organized an interactive parting gift, building off the class’s study of “A Letter to My Nephew” by James Baldwin and “Letter to My Son” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and a class discussion of what the students learned from each other.
“We will have a Google doc for each kid shared with everyone. At the top, it is addressed properly with the date and time and a salutation — and then each kid will write a few lines to each other kid,” Chew wrote in a message.
Courtney Jones, a fourth-grade public school teacher in Woodville, Texas, prepared travel bags including a pencil-shaped like a tree branch, stickers and notebooks for her kids to remind them to “Always travel. Either in their thoughts or ideas, or if you can, in person. I wanted them to understand that it’s important to keep growing.”
Jones mailed the bags to the homes of her 22 students. Their classes finish up on May 29.
The gift carries a special significance because Jones recently left the district where she had been teaching for several years. A long-planned move to Colorado was expedited when her house sold earlier than expected. She had planned to come back to teach the final six weeks of school. But then, schools went remote.
The 28-year-old also founded and serves as the executive director of the ClearTheList Foundation, a nonprofit organization that buys classroom supplies for underfunded teachers and schools, and educates teachers on advocacy.
Her public district is 100 percent economically disadvantaged and the students were provided with breakfast and lunch at school, Jones said. She emphasized that end-of-year gifts don’t have to be material or dramatic.
“I’ve seen teachers sending texts that are just as special as a big parade,” Jones said. “We’re all going through a lot.”