Mountain Valley Elementary parade

Toby Sluss waves farewell to his teachers during Mountain Valley Elementary School’s Summer Send Off Parade Saturday. According to Lindsay Jones, Title One reading and math teacher at Mountain Valley Elementary School, the parade was held to have some closure to the end of the school year.

BLUEFIELD — A drive that’s mostly used by school buses became a parade route Friday with signs, imaginary hugs and other long-distance bits of love as a school’s staff and teachers wished their students a happy summer.

The new Mountain View Elementary School along Blue Prince Road opened this year, so the students are the first ones to use its classrooms. Unfortunately, this connection between teachers, students and staff was broken in mid-March when West Virginia’s schools closed as a precaution against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Teachers kept educating their students by using social media and sending them lesson packets, but they lost that personal contact with the children. The school year’s conclusion is a happy time as teachers and students say goodbye for the summer.

This year that traditional send off wasn’t possible, so the teachers and staff organized a drive-through alternative. Homemade signs, balloons and cow bells were ready when the students’ families drove through the school’s parking lot.

“We’re just saying goodbye to our students,” Pre-K teacher Pam Kinzer said. “They’re going to drive by and we’re going to hold signs, ring bells and blow kisses, and we’re just going to say goodbye.”

Many teachers were seeing their students face-to-face for the first time in weeks even if it was from about 6 feet away. An SUV with some waving children passed and shared smiles and waves with Pre-K and Special Needs teacher Susan Moore.

“They’re mine,” she said as they passed. “I love you!” she called to them. “Come back around!”

Friday offered some sunny weather when the send off started about 1:45 p.m..

“Yesterday it was so cold and rainy,” Moore recalled. “I worried, but God has blessed us today by bringing that sun out.” She watched more children go by. “The hardest thing is we can’t touch them. They don’t understand. They’re so little.”

Some children stood in their SUVs’ open sunroofs like returning astronauts getting a ticker-tape parade as their teachers waived and called to them.

“This is just a part of what we do,” Pre-K teacher Bernice White said of Friday’s farewell. “We work hard all year just to say goodbye to them.”

“I’m crying. I try not to cry,” second grade teacher Connie Myers said as she saw her students.

Children held up homemade signs with “Thank You!” and “Miss You!” on them. One child blew bubbles and families dropped off potted plants to some of the teachers.

“You all stay out of trouble!” Title I resource teacher Lindsey Jones called to his students. “It’s great. I miss them so much. I teach all the grades here. Some of them have grown a bit in the last two months.”

Principal Mary Terry watched as her school’s first students said goodbye for the summer.

“The ones who are coming through are the original students at Mountain Valley, the original cast and crew,” she said.

And those students couldn’t be in class for the full school year.

“It’s been hard, you know,” Terry said. “You have them and you think of them and you watch them grow up. It’s like missing a part of you.”

Teachers have stayed in contact by offering lessons on social media and dropping off lesson packets to students who don’t have internet access, but not seeing the students in person is difficult.

“You get so busy, you don’t realize how big a part of your life they are,” Terry stated. “It’s been a loss. It’s been a loss.”

Parents were ready for their children to go back to school, too. “Please Take Them Back” was on one SUV’s rear view window.

“I feel kind of like we’ve been robbed of our kids,” third grade teacher Kim Bowman said. “It’s kind of hard to see them and not be able to hug them.”

“We needed this,” school secretary Betty Long said as children waived to her. “You have a great summer!”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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