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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Paula TredwaySecond-grader Noah Less and fourth-grader Kolby Less were watching the parade on Oak Street with signs in hand waiting to see their teachers, Mrs. Francis and Mrs. Eichelberger.

Smiling faces dotted the streets of California last week, as California Elementary School's PTO worked to keep morale high for the students entering their third week of school closures today.

The PTO hosted a virtual spirit week March 30-April 3, including a parade starring the elementary faculty April 1. The parade was designed to let the students know just how much the teachers miss their students, and they all were going to make it through this hard time together, even if they have to do it from a distance.

At the beginning of the school closure, second-grade teacher Danielle Morrow and school resource officer Scott Harkins started planning their route. They wanted to avoid main streets because they wanted to avoid drawing large crowds to protect the community. Instead, they decided to route through the neighborhoods in which their students lived so all the students had a chance to see their teachers.

"Some people may think educators are excited to be getting an unforeseen 'break' from school and our kids when in reality, we are deeply saddened by this separation," fourth-grade teacher Kelly Hall said. "We know that students learn best when engaged in meaningful learning opportunities within the classroom and among their peers, and that just isn't possible right now, which is disheartening for an educator. We have also built relationships with all of our kids, and we miss their smiles, stories, hugs and conversations. Getting to at least see their smiles during the parade and show how much we love and miss them was so meaningful. It was truly medicine for our souls that added some extra sunshine to help us get through our days apart."

Many students lined the streets within a safe distance of one another, holding signs and wearing smiles plastered across their faces, as they saw their teachers for the first time since school closed.

"There were smiles and tears during the two hours it took to complete the route (across) town," fifth-grade teacher Rachel Hees said. "The sidewalk art, decorated houses, signs from the students, smiles and waves, from students to parents, was so heartwarming. I came home with sore cheeks from smiling so much, but my heart was the fullest it's been since we said goodbye to our students on March 18."

With the school board decisions to keep California schools closed until May 4, and with the uncertainty of COVID-19's continued growth, this parade was exactly what the students and California community needed, Morrow said.

"We don't know what the future holds with school closures and the coronavirus, so our elementary school faculty and staff wanted to reach out and give some connection and closure to our kiddos in this time of uncertainty," Morrow said. "Many memories were made and I won't forget this year. I couldn't be more proud to live in our community and be part of the California School District."

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