More than just a parade

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING and LYNWOOD, Ill. (April 25, 2020) – The tears streaming down Erika Pettis’s cheeks were an indication that this parade was more than just a parade. “I’m, like, super happy to see people,” she said, laughing and wiping her face. Pettis is the Assistant Superintendent for District 171, which comprises Nathan Hale Elementary School and Heritage Middle School. She organized a parade on Friday, April 24, that would give District 171 teachers an opportunity to connect with students.

But the opportunity for staff and teachers to connect with each other turned out to be just as meaningful. “I’m so happy to see them!” Pettis said, breaking away for a moment to shout a greeting to a group of teachers across the parking lot.

Assistant Superintendent Erika Pettis organized a parade for D171 kids—and got as much joy out of it as they did. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

“We have not been together since March 13,” nodded Chantelle Cambric, Assistant Principal at Heritage, before being interrupted by whoops and squeals from other staff and teachers arriving for the parade.

It was a strange kind of joy—unexpected by these professionals, grown-ups who thought they were here to do something their kids might need. And the excitement of reuniting was tinged with something like grief, or at least an awareness of loss. For although students and teachers and staff have all worked hard to keep educating and learning, the year feels unfinished, unresolved. And they won’t get it back.

Eighth-grade Heritage teacher Holly St. John wanted to acknowledge her graduating students, so she dressed in cap and gown and blasted “Pomp and Circumstance” from her car stereo. Her colleagues Raul Torres and Justin Bronson also participated in the parade. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Cynthia Faltenburg decorated her car with pictures her students had made while they were still meeting as a class. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Patti Chiaramonte is the fifth-grade Learning Counselor at Heritage, so her message was a shout-out to fifth graders. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Lori Strac-Owens is Director of School Improvement for School District 171. She chose to emphasize the messages she would often give the kids in person. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“The secretaries miss your laughs,” read the message painted on this van. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

For the most part though, the joy in the parking lot on Friday was focused on the students. Teachers, the district nurse, office staff, and others toured the parking spots enjoying each other’s creativity and adding some last-minute touches to their decorations.

D171 School Board member Jesse Terrazas said he chose to wear his Santa suit because it was the only clean laundry he had at this point in quarantine. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“Our district always shows up for our students and each other!!” said Andrea Warner, School District Nurse. “Best thing about working there!” She and her sons Greyson (Spiderman) and Jack (Storm Trooper) were eager to see all the students again. (Photo provided)
Nathan Hale’s Jada Gilmore prepared an enthusiastic greeting. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
A group of Heritage teachers added some last-minute touches to their parade vehicle. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Amy Pelke, second-grade teacher at Nathan Hale, used vibrant colors to send a message to her kids. (Photo: David Pelke)
Fourth-grade teacher Stefani Herold’s message was simple and sweet. (Photo provided)

Lansing Deputy Police Chief Richard Slough, who would lead the police escort of the parade, provided some last-minute instructions to parade participants, and then the 50-some vehicles lined up and exited onto Greenbay Avenue.

The 10-mile route circled through neighborhoods in Lansing and Lynwood, and families had been notified ahead of time. They gathered in lawns, on driveways, and along sidewalks, eagerly waving as the parade of teachers drove past accompanied by honks, shouts, and sirens.

Some of the students were ready with their own signs for their teachers. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Some families simply waved from the sidewalk. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“We miss our Nathan Hale teachers” wrote this family, who waited near Oakwood Park for the parade to pass by. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“I miss you,” wrote this Lansing student. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The parade circled the Salem Cross apartments in Lansing, honking and waving. Residents came to their balconies to see what was going on and wave back. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Even people without kids got caught up in the joy of the parade. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“Thank you, Educators,” and “I miss you, Mrs. Wallace,” were the messages from this student’s heart. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
This family decorated their vehicle with messages of thanks and school pride. (Photo: Jackie Terrazas)
Fourth grader Havyn Shones got creative with her messaging: “We o-fish-ally miss you.” (Photo: Jackie Terrazas)
“Best teachers ever!” declared another D171 student. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
A family in Lynwood came out to wave at the passing cars. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The line of cars wound through 10 miles of neighborhoods in Lansing and Lynwood. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Though the 50-car parade held up traffic at several intersections in Lansing and Lynwood, people responded with waves, honks, smiles, and a thumbs-up. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Even the roofing crew atop a house in Lynwood waved back at the teacher parade. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
A woman in Lynwood made thank-you gifts for the teachers, using items from her candle business, Pretty Litty Candles. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

The return back to the parking lot at Heritage was marked with pep rally-style whoops and cheers, as if the home team had just won the big game.

“It was so good to see the kids,” said Pettis, shaking her head, “and so good to see the staff! This was great.”

Back at Heritage Middle School, Erika Pettis (left) and Lori Strac-Owens celebrate the success of the parade and congratulate each other from a safe social distance. The parade took about an hour. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Heritage Middle School is located at 19250 Burnham Avenue in Lansing.

Nathan Hale Elementary School is located at 19055 Burnham Avenue in Lansing.

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1 thought on “More than just a parade”

  1. Kudos to School District 171! Our children are grown, but we enjoyed watching the car parade and waving to the participants as they drove along Wentworth Ave. They brought joy to our day!

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