St. Ambrose sends eighth-graders off with parade

Members of the St. Ambrose Catholic School Class of 2020 were supposed to leave Thursday night for a fun, educational trip to Washington, D.C.

Because schools have been closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that trip was canceled.

The eighth-graders were forced to communicate with each other and their teachers virtually, and they also missed out on school activities.

Since several of them had attended the Seymour school since preschool, they also were looking forward to participating in a tradition, the clap out on the last day of school, where students line the hallways and clap and cheer for the eighth-graders.

School staff members and the students’ parents came together to give them the next-best alternative.

On Thursday night outside the front of the school, the 14 members of the class stood at least 6 feet apart in front of signs with their names on them and waved as family members and other supporters drove by in their vehicles.

The well-wishers honked their horns as they drove by, and several made signs or had balloons on their vehicles.

“These kids have been together, a lot of them, since preschool and are grieving because they haven’t had a chance to be together and end all of these years,” Principal Michelle Neibert-Levine said.

“The clap out is one of the things they said they really were going to miss and were disappointed about missing, so we organized this,” she said. “That’s our point: Let’s try to give them the memories. It’s not the clap out, it’s not Washington, D.C., but we’re going to do whatever we can to make it special for them.”

After the parade, the eighth-graders took their signs, which were autographed by their classmates, and balloons home with them along with a gift bag that contained a framed picture from their Christmas music program and some treats.

They also took a group picture in front of a “We love our eighth-graders” sign outside the school, and a video featuring pictures of the class members throughout their years at St. Ambrose and words of advice from staff members was posted on the school’s Facebook page.

The school has reserved cabins at Brown County Inn for an upcoming outing to replace the trip to the nation’s capital, and there will a graduation Mass and a formal reception when it’s safe to do so, Neibert-Levine said.

Eighth-grader Solomon Hall said it has been tough being out of school and only seeing his classmates and teachers through Zoom meetings.

He also was looking forward to the clap out.

“A lot of these people have been here since pre-K, so that has been the moment that they’ve been waiting for since 3 and 4 years old,” he said. “To be taken away by a virus, it’s pretty sad.”

Thursday’s parade, however, lifted his spirits.

“It was awesome,” he said. “A lot of support from the community. It shows that people really care. It’s sad that we can’t have (the clap out), but for people to chip in and really work hard, it means something.”

Classmate Mia Crespo said she wanted to spend her last few days at St. Ambrose with classmates and have fun.

Since they couldn’t do that, she said it was nice for people to come together to organize the parade.

“I was really excited just everyone doing this thing for our class,” she said. “We’ve been here for so long, and it’s just really special and it means a lot.”

As family members drove by, they presented Crespo with a vase of flowers and had balloons for her in the vehicle.

“It felt really nice, and I was really excited and happy that everyone believes in what I’m going to do after here,” she said.

Eighth-grader Avery Stewart said the parade was a bright spot after all of the challenges everyone has had to face.

“It was really special. It made me sad,” she said. “I should be more thankful and not take things for granted, that’s for sure.”

It was good to be with her classmates again, too, she said.

“I have been with our class since I was really little. There’s something about our class,” Stewart said. “Everyone just feels like family around here.”

Anthony Juarez said he had attended St. Ambrose since third grade. Not being there for the last eight weeks, he said it was life-changing.

“It makes me reflect on how things can change just immediately, how you have no control over certain things where they just happen and you don’t even expect it,” he said. “I never thought something like this would happen. You kind of think it’s going to be perfect, which that doesn’t happen. It was just immediately out of nowhere.”

He said it took some adjusting to communicate with his classmates and teachers.

“It felt kind of weird at first because a lot of people in the meeting were silent, so we didn’t really know what to say,” he said. “But after a while, we kind of started getting into the groove, into the flow, and we started talking and got used to it. It seemed pretty normal after that.”

Another sense of normalcy came Thursday night when the class was reunited in-person.

“It’s something that I’ll remember for probably the rest of my life how something like this can impact such a large majority of life,” Juarez said. “It made me reflect on how to cherish how things were before and how things will be once this is over.”