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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
Heritage Middle School is located at 19250 Burnham Avenue in Lansing.
Nathan Hale Elementary School is located at 19055 Burnham Avenue in Lansing.