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ON THE SCENE: The great kindergarten sendoff in Lake Placid

Dora and Nathan Hammaker with their daughter (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

At 12:45 p.m. Monday, June 8, Lake Placid Elementary School kindergarten teachers and their students got to see each other in person for a very touching moment at the Marshalls parking lot off Saranac Avenue before parading down Main Street to celebrate their graduation.

We saw firsthand how much the kids miss their teachers and classmates, and how much their teachers and friends miss them as well. Students have been distance learning since March 16 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Furthermore, the bond between the parents and teachers was very much on display, a relationship that was undoubtedly deepened by the challenge of teaching the kids remotely.

Usually, graduation occurs in the school gym, but this year that wasn’t possible at the time under New York’s social distancing guidelines. So the teachers and LPES Principal Sonja Franklin came up with a graduation parade.

A caravan of cars traveled down Main Street, over Cummings Road to Wes Valley Road, and finished back at Marshalls. There the kids received their summer reading materials and end-of-the-year bags.

Lake Placid Central School Superintendent Roger Catania waves to the students. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“We as a team wanted to honor our kindergarteners this year,” said kindergarten teacher Megann Monahan. “As we were not able to have a normal graduation, we had to think out of the box. We decided that a parade would be a great way involve the community in acknowledging the students.”

Fortunately, the weather was postcard perfect. The parents arrived each in their decorated family cars to be greeted and lined up by the faculty. The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department and the Lake Placid Police Department served as escorts while friends and family lined Main Street, ready to greet the kids with flags, cheers and homemade signs. Many other Elementary School teachers and members of the School District administration lined Cummings Road, waiting to applaud and cheer the students and parents.

Monahan described the shift from in-school classrooms to teaching children through online videoconferencing a problematic challenge for everyone to take on. She and the other teachers felt the students did a great job of adapting to this new way of connecting with their teachers and taking on the tasks asked of them.

One of the teachers’ challenges was maintaining and reinforcing the progress and learning habits the kids acquired before the school closures. Taking that on through videoconferencing was difficult. Lots Facetiming helped. Monahan praised the parents, describing their accomplishments as fantastic, especially as many had never taught before and many had several other children at home as well and jobs to juggle.

“The parents deserve a big kudo,” said Monahan.

In the classroom, the teachers tend to be very active, giving this or that child more attention as needed, a hug when some are feeling overwhelmed. They noted that when a student arrives in their classroom, they get a sense of how their day is going and what kind of help they may need, be it someone to open up to, help them make up with a friend or deal with some hurt.

They pointed out that kids arrived with different skillsets and life experiences, so they all need individual attention and, of course, learn so much from their classmates. Their challenge was to provide as much of that emotional lifeline and learning experience as they could virtually.

“One thing I miss is being physical with them every day,” said Monahan.

Her colleagues agreed. One said, “They may miss us, but they miss each other. They depend on one another. You don’t learn so well in isolation, so learning from home has been a big adjustment for them and their parents.”

The teachers said the distance learning allowed them a bit of a window into the kids’ homes. It helped them better understand the challenges the families were going through, some with both parents out of work, juggling work with teaching and how relatives have often stepped up. In many ways, it’s deepened the bond between the teachers and the parents and extended family members. They all – including parents — can’t wait for school to open in the fall.

One such gifted person was Marlene Daniels, a grandmother, babysitter, coach, teacher’s aide and more all rolled into one.

“It’s a bit difficult with my granddaughter Sophia graduating today, my grandson Justin moving up to sixth grade on Wednesday, and nothing is normal,” said Daniels, filling in for the parents who had to work. “We make do the best we can. Today my job is to give them a big hug from their mom, take lots of pictures so their mom doesn’t miss anything, and drive them in the parade. I think the parade is awesome. The kids need a distraction from everything that’s going on. They need to know that they’re being celebrated; that they’re important.”

“It’s been challenging, but the school has been wonderful, and our daughter gets to see her teacher on Facetime,” said Dora Hammaker. “It’s been going as well as in can be under the circumstances. I’ve learned that it’s hard to homeschool and balance my own work life. I’ll be glad for our daughter and the teachers when they go back to school. I know it’s been as hard on the teachers as it has been on the kids. They miss each other.”

The teachers, staff and parents have a strong leader in the LPES principal, who has helped guide the school through the incredible disruption caused by COVID-19. As a working mom with a son in high school, Franklin experienced many of the similar challenges the parents faced, such as juggling work while helping her son with distance learning. But as was true of everyone else, her focus was on helping the kids have the best educational experience possible.

“I’ve learned that flexibility is key,” said Franklin. “You can’t set anything in stone because it’s going to change the next day again. You have to be very flexible, go with the flow and understand that it’s not personal; it’s about keeping our community and neighbors safe. The kids miss us, and we miss them. The whole reason we got into education was for the kids. We didn’t sign up to teach online. I miss the hugs, the high-fives, the smiles every day as they get off the bus. We’ve been going through a grieving process. We’re trained in teaching. We know how to do it. We know different strategies and different approaches to using when kids are having a hard time. For parents, who are just trying to wing it, that’s a lot to ask.”

On Monday, parents and teachers got it right, big time. There were smiles all around. The kids got gift bags that included coloring books from the police, and from their teachers individually selected books, their diploma, and other goodies for the summer.

Exciting as it all was, you could feel the ache in the teachers’ hearts as the last car drove out of the parking lot. September can’t come soon enough as far as the teachers, parents, and kids are concerned.