Waving moppy, floppy pom-poms does not typically evoke tears. But when educators shook them and cheered for high school seniors outside their homes across New York this week, many students cried. And so did some teachers.
In Saranac Lake, a caravan of pom-pom waving teachers left the school parking lot at 9:30 a.m. and returned at 6:30 p.m. — after visiting every one of the 89 members of the 2020 senior class in the front yard of their homes, where they are quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They all miss school,” said Peter Frenette, high school physical education teacher and driver ed instructor. “Usually at this time (of year) they all want to get out — now they want to get in.”
A lead bus driver had a route planned out, and members of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association followed in cars. Principal Josh Dann got out at each stop with a bullhorn, shouting “We’re coming for you!” Students came out of their homes alongside parents or siblings. Teachers, practicing safe distancing and wearing masks, got out of their cars waving pom poms and holding up banners.
“It was awesome. They were all really, really overjoyed,” Frenette said. Because each stop took more time than planned, as teachers and students really wanted to visit with each student, the trip ran behind schedule.
“We actually tracked the last two students down at the skateboard park!” Frenette said.
Frenette said that educators and students miss how they usually connect outside the classroom, between classes. And that made the personal visits to seniors even more of a treasure.
“You have interactions all day with kids, in the hallways, in the cafeteria. That’s all gone,” he said.
Saranac Lake TA member Kris Miemis took photos at each stop for the annual senior slide show — although there is still uncertainty as to how that show will be presented.
Examples abound around the state of educators going the extra mile to reach out to graduates
In Central New York, members of the Marcellus Faculty Association paid tribute to the graduating class with a day-long parade of teachers in their individual, decorated cars. They visited 135 seniors between 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
“We would shout ‘We love you! We miss you! We want you to know how proud we are of you!” said Laurie Updike, MFA treasurer and a physical education teacher. “Some of them cried. Some pulled their shirts over their faces (crying.) One mom wrote: ‘Best day ever.’”
As teachers and administrators reconfigure rites of passage for seniors, Updike said “This was a really special day to be able to connect. You become attached to these kids. You feel their losses and gains. They face the end of the year with emptiness. To be able to give kids that joy — that’s why you choose this gig.”
In one Long Island district, seniors were the ones who paraded in their cars while members of the Lynbrook TA stood outside the high school. Seniors drove by the lineup of teachers, coaches and administrators, who cheered, held balloons, and blitzed the air with noisemakers.
“I rang my little cowbell,” said Kim Herrmann, social studies teacher, who said some seniors passed by two and three times. Many of the 220 seniors had their entire families packed into the car, complete with dogs.
“During the course of the year you get little bits of love and joy all year. It was like packing that into an hour,” Herrmann said.
The event took place at 8:20 p.m., the military equivalent time of 20:20. The seniors also received lawn signs for their homes.
School librarian Tara Thibault-Edmonds was part of a local union entourage in Rondout Valley delivering signs to 159 graduating seniors in an early morning stakeout this week.
“We wanted to make it a big surprise, so we decided we’d get there early,” said Thibault-Edmonds. The lawn signs were purchased by the Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and School-Related Professionals, and members from every unit helped with delivery. “We had teachers, secretaries, coaches and paras,” she said.
Graphic arts teacher Jake Maloney designed the signs. The union ordered extra signs to be placed around the community as June graduation date nears.
The 50 volunteers drove through the Ulster County neighborhoods in the early morning quiet.
“Some of us were stealthy,” Thibault-Edmonds said, laughing, “but others were a little more flashy. She noted that French teacher Patricia Abi-Hassan tied balloons to her signs and honked for the still-sleeping seniors.
Creativity is the hallmark of these outreach efforts for graduating seniors. In Lake Placid, teaching assistant Patti McConvey raised more than $2,000 for senior signs to decorate light posts in the mountain community. Each banner features a portrait of a senior. At the James Baldwin High School in Brooklyn, laminated senior portraits dress up the fence surrounding the school.