Brownstown Elementary celebrates end of school year with parade

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Standing behind a barbed wire fence, preschool teacher Anne Marie Martin and aides Jill Wells and Sherry Rorig were in the perfect spot to catch students off guard.

They kept the Super Soakers and bubble machine low until students and their families slowly went by in their vehicles. Then they would unleash the water and bubbles.

While they were a little wet, the students still smiled because they were happy to see the staff members in-person for the first time since mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools.

“This is a blast,” Wells said while taking a break from firing her Super Soaker. “The kids are laughing, and the parents are smiling.”

Martin and Rorig also liked seeing the kids keep smiling as they left the school parking lot.

“Just to see their faces light up, just the smiles and the faces,” Rorig said of what she enjoyed most. “The kids become your family.”

For the trio, Thursday night’s Hawaiian-themed end-of-school parade on the final day of eLearning signified closure of an unprecedented time.

“Our group left on Thursday before school closed on Friday. We didn’t get to say goodbye at all,” Martin said. “It’s incomplete, that’s for sure. Sad and incomplete.”

Wells said the past couple of months have been hard for a lot of the students, including her son, who is a first-grader.

“He was in tears today,” she said. “Every year, summer is just such an exciting time, ‘Oh, it’s summertime, last day of school.’ This year was not.’”

The parade, however, was a way for everyone to end on a happy note, Wells said.

Martin said it also was good to see her colleagues.

“We walked in today and it was like I didn’t realize how much we missed each other,” Martin said. “We missed being together working on stuff.”

Martin said the way she had to complete her state reports this spring was different, too, but it was a positive. Some parts were even forgiven.

“April and May with all of my state reports, it’s usually a nightmare and I am exhausted. This time, I’m not exhausted. A lot of really high-pressure stuff has been forgiven for the year. I just had to do the basic report card-level state report,” she said. “I’m able to enjoy saying goodbye.”

Principal Chrystal Street said the idea of a parade was suggested by staff members, and they were able to spread out along the sidewalks surrounding the school building and practice social distancing.

Students and their families remained in their vehicles, and several of the kids made signs for staff to read along the way.

“It’s really bittersweet, but it’s so good to see all of the kids and to see the look on their faces when they saw us and smiled,” Street said. “It made me as a principal feel so much better because I just don’t know what has gone on for however long we’ve been out. It was such a relief for me, and it was comforting.”

While it wasn’t a typical way to close out the school year, Street said the parade offered closure.

“We didn’t have that before,” she said, referring to the school building closing in March. “When we first got out, we thought we were going to be out for two weeks. We never dreamed that it would be like this, so for me, it was good closure. I still worry about them.”

Several teachers used Super Soakers, bubbles or Silly String as students went by. Many also made special signs for students to read.

Before it could be used, Martin said she had to clean up her fire hose-shaped water gun.

“This is 18 years old,” she said. “My kids are in their 20s. I have not touched this. This had years worth of dust on it.”

After several squirts of water Thursday night, the dust was gone.

“It’s well-rinsed now,” she said, laughing.

Rorig said the bubble machine had been used often in the classroom until the pandemic struck.

“We were surprised the batteries worked because normally, I clean it out before the end of the year, and I didn’t clean it out,” she said.

For the hourlong event, it was OK for the trio to act the age of the students they teach, who are 3, 4 and 5 years old.

“We do every day,” Rorig said, laughing.

“That’s our job,” Martin added. “That’s our job.”