Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins has been chronicling Memphis and Memphis sports for more than two decades. He is host of "The Geoff Calkins Show" from 9-11 a.m. M-F on 92.9 FM. Calkins has been named the best sports columnist in the country five times by the Associated Press sports editors, but still figures his best columns are about the people who make Memphis what it is.

Calkins: Yes, it’s true! They had a (very happy) coronavirus parade!

By Updated: March 25, 2020 4:40 PM CT | Published: March 23, 2020 5:08 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

“You ready to roll?” asked Ben Hubbard, the Collierville police officer assigned to Bailey Station Elementary School.

“We’re ready to roll!” responded Deanna Jones, the vice principal of the school.

And just like that they were rolling, a line of cars more than 70 cars long, heading out into the streets for a — there’s no other way to put it — coronavirus parade.

“Everyone loves a parade!” said Jones, as she drove off, and who would ever argue with that?

But there were no marching bands or antique cars in this parade. There were no baton twirlers or elaborate floats.

Just a whole school of teachers trying to inject some joy into what was supposed to be the first day back from spring break by driving past the kids who should have been back in school.

“We wanted to show them that we miss them,” said Toni Pugh, who teaches fifth grade. “Teaching isn’t just about the curriculum. It’s about connection. Even though we can’t be together, we are trying to connect.”

Which is the challenge for all of us, isn’t it? And maybe the sweetest part of the response to the coronavirus?

We have to be apart. Everyone knows this. Neil Diamond put out a video remake of “Sweet Caroline” over the weekend in which he sings — hilariously — “Don’t touch me, I won’t touch you!”

But the video itself was a connection, of course. To Diamond, to each other and to one of our great, familiar songs.

Everywhere you look, people are being intentional about connecting to each other, in ways that we never would have imagined two weeks ago.

My eight siblings and I had cheese and crackers with my 95-year-old mother Saturday night, courtesy of Zoom. None of us had ever used Zoom even a week ago. But there we were, Saturday, arrayed in nine little screens on the laptop, chatting and laughing and carrying-on.

The parade was another version of this, a way for teachers to connect with students who likely will not walk into their classrooms again this school year. And while everyone likes to talk about online learning these days, learning — especially at the elementary-school level — is most effective when combined with love.

So it was a teacher at Bailey Station who first suggested the idea, which took off like the best ideas often do. When the school sent the kids home for spring break 10 days ago, nobody had any idea it could be the last day of classes for the year.

“They let us into the building today to get whatever we might need,” said Miranda Manley, another assistant principal. “It was sad. Really quiet. Schools are supposed to be filled with noise and joy.”

Happily, noise and joy were right there, in the school parking lot, where the teachers began to gather starting at 10 a.m.

Marci Nobert — a kindergarten teacher — taped photos of all her students to the sides of her SUV. Girls on one side, both on the other. The boys side said, “I even miss my boys.”

Another kindergarten teacher, Angela Pearson, put a big sign on her car that said, “Pearson’s Pineapples.”

Why pineapples?

“Because they’re all so sweet on the inside,” she said. “And it begins with ‘P.’ ”

At 10:55, all the teachers hopped in their cars, as Jones prepared to lead the way. She and her husband had driven the route Sunday, in order to make sure they brought the parade within walking distance of every kid.

“I’ve been the bus coordinator for 15 years,” she said. “I know all the routes.”

So they weaved through neighborhoods and circled through coves. Waving and honking and waving some more.

On every corner, or nearly, a throng of students and parents waved back. They had scooters and basketballs, they had handmade signs of their own. On the corner of Poplar View and Tanger, a 5-year-old girl named Venba Somasundaram held a simple sign. It said, “I miss my school.”

It was the longest, merriest parade I have ever witnessed. The Macy’s Parade lasts three hours. This parade lasted four. Of course, the Macy’s Parade doesn’t have to stop at traffic lights. It certainly doesn’t have to wait for a train to pass.  Nor does the Macy’s Parade slow down so the participants can lean out their windows and tell the spectators that they love and miss them.

This parade, did.

It was like the first day of school and the last day of school. It was happy and wistful all at once.

The music teacher, Wendy Hill, scrawled a sign on her window that said, “Keep on singing!”

The librarian, Jennifer Boren, held up a stuffed Captain Underpants.

I asked Boren if she had any particular books to recommend for this moment. She suggested, “A Stone Sat Still,” by Brendan Wenzel, about all the magical things that happen around a stone that simply sits still.

“We are being asked to sit still, to stay in one place, like that stone,” Boren said. “But life goes on around the stone in beautiful ways. I think a lot of life is about learning to be. Just be where you are.”

We are in a place we have never been before, as a country. It’s scary and uncomfortable for kindergarteners and grownups alike. But it’ll be a little less scary if we continue to find ways to connect with one another, whether that’s by text, by Zoom or by a parade.

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coronavirus COVID-19 kindness blog Geoff Calkins Bailey Station Elementary School

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