Dozens of cars lined up in the parking lot of Lakeview Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon — many with signs hanging from their windows saying things like “We miss you” and “Stay healthy.”

One by one, the vehicles filled with teachers and staff made a slow procession out of the parking lot. It was the start of a three-hour parade around the neighborhoods near Lakeview Elementary to reconnect with students confined to their homes because of the coronavirus.

Kindergarten teacher Julia Blazek came up with the idea. She group texted her fellow staff members to see if they were interested. The word continued to spread through social media and Blazek said she couldn’t believe the amount of cars already in the school parking lot when she arrived a little before 2 p.m.

In total, there were 21 cars in convoy — some staff members that Blazek knew would be there and some that she didn’t. There was at least one teacher to represent every grade level from junior-kindergarten to sixth grade, along with the school counselor and librarian.

“The goal was to first just put a smile on the kids’ faces. None of us have gone through this before,” Blazek said. “My goal was to touch base with them. We’re all teachers, because we love kids.

“To not be able to see them for this period of time is unplanned.”

Fifth grade teachers Belinda Brunelli and Emily Pfeifley were among the first to arrive and wait for the parade to begin. Brunelli said they have “absolutely” missed seeing their students since school got out and didn’t realize it until the prospect of maybe not returning struck.

Making it even tougher, a few of Pfeifley’s students didn’t come to class on the Friday leading up to spring break. She said the teachers had a feeling something like an extended break might happen, but weren’t prepared for life without their students.

“We had no idea that we might not be able to even say goodbye to them,” Pfeifley said. “Just the fact that we aren’t sure when we get to see them next, that’s what making it harder.”

Lakeview has the largest enrollment of any elementary school in Gillette and families are “very wide spread,” Blazek said. But even she was surprised at how long the parade took as the convoy traveled more than 25 miles while driving about 10 mph.

The time was well spent, though. Kids were outside their houses waving and jumping up and down. Some had even made signs of their own to display, Blazek said.

Some of the messages included the mutual “We miss you,” several “Lakeview Rocks!” and also some shout-outs to individual teachers. As the sounds of honking horns proceeded the parade, even more parents and kids came outside to greet the familiar faces.

“It was totally worth it,” Blazek said. “It was just awesome to see their faces and let them know we were there for them. You could tell how excited they were.”

Word of the parade continued to spread even after it was over. As of Tuesday at 7 p.m., the Lakeview Elementary’s Facebook post about the event was up to almost 12,000 views, Blazek said.

Reconnecting with students — even if it was just by waves and kind words on a poster — was a much-needed morale boost for all parties involved. Blazek said that if, “God forbid,” the schools continue to be closed, she hopes to do a similar event next month.

The teachers are still in limbo as the state of uncertainty grows.

“With it being spring break being last week, you kind of expected not to see (the students) as much. But it’s getting a little crazier,” said Tony Anderson, a sixth grade teacher at Lakeview. “You expect to be doing actual work, planning and grading papers and all that stuff.”

School has only been out officially in Campbell County for three days now, but not being able to check in on their students every day is putting a strain on the teachers.

“I can’t even define how I feel about it. It’s really scary. (I’m) scared and nervous about what it’s like for some of the kiddos,” Pfeifley said. “It’s just really un-chartered territory.”

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