As Sugar Creek bilingual resource teacher Lisette Venegas took a drive around Verona and Fitchburg last week, she was glad she wasn’t the one behind the wheel.
One of the three organizers behind a Sugar Creek teacher caravan, Venegas said she cried throughout the entire route. The caravan took place on Thursday, April 9, after almost an entire month of being apart from one another during a time when school should be in full swing,
“The minute we saw the first family, I was so grateful that my husband was driving because I don’t know if I could have driven, cried and honked horns and waved at kids all at the same time,” she said.
The concept of a Sugar Creek teacher caravan started after three educators – Venegas, Laura Marquardt and Shannon Searle – all brought the idea of it to principal Todd Brunner within the same day after seeing other caravans go by their homes or seeing them on social media.
“We love our Sugar Creek kiddos and families so much, and it was hard for everybody – we were at school on a Friday, and we thought we were coming back on Monday when we left, and then we did not,” Marquardt, a kindergarten teacher, said. “So we thought this would be a really fun way to get out there and say hi, and be able to wave and see their faces so that they get to see us from a very safe distance.”
Starting at 10:30 a.m. April 9, teachers started to form the caravan in the bus parking lot at the school, where they decorated their vehicles with signs and phrases such as “We love you,” “We love Sugar Creek” and “We miss you.” Around 40 teachers and staff, as well as Brunner participated, creating a caravan dozens of cars long that could be heard from blocks away as they drove along close to bus stops in both Verona and northwestern Fitchburg.
The three worked with both the district’s bus company for routing and the Verona police department, who gave them permission to do the caravan as long as teachers practiced social distancing and followed the rules of the road, Venegas said.
It took around an hour and a half to drive the entirety of the route, Venegas said.
Searle said the staff participation was incredible, and many found the caravan was just what they needed.
“Even afterward, the email threads that went around were, ‘holy cow, my bucket is filled, my heart is full, I really needed that’” she said.
Third grade bilingual teacher Jessica Carter said she had “lots and lots” of happy tears from participating in the caravan.
“I couldn’t stop smiling today,” she said. “Just seeing and waving to everyone, it was really special.”
Fourth grade teacher Lori Martin said she misses the personal connection she has with her students, so participating in the teacher caravan was a way for her to get some of that back, for even a short period of time.
“How fun, to get to see staff and kids and families,” she said. “It was kind of hard to drive … I’m trying to drive and wave and cry.”
For Searle personally, she said the experience was like a rollercoaster, and that it was hard not to hug some of her fellow teachers she’d become close to after not being able to see them for almost a month, but seeing students out on the caravan route made her feel overjoyed.
The messages from parents afterward expressing appreciation came flooding in, Venegas said, stating how much the teacher caravan meant to them and how it was something they needed.
“One of the moms said she first got teary-eyed from the wind, and then she couldn’t stop crying,” she said. “They were so grateful that we did (the caravan), because they realized they needed it as much as the kids did.”
Marquardt said one of Sugar Creek’s mainstays is maintaining good relationships between students and staff, and that’s difficult with virtual learning, where face-to-face interaction isn’t possible. Holding the teacher caravan was a way for staff to let students know how much they care about them.
“They’ll make up the learning – everybody across the world right now is going to be a little bit behind – but that kind of stuff can be made up,” she said. “We want to make sure they stay healthy and happy, and have that connection so that when we do get to come back to school, they’ll be ready for the learning part, too.”