VENICE — Spirits were high Thursday at Venice Elementary as teachers and school employees rallied to honor their fifth-grade graduates and parents in a drive-by graduation parade.

For many, it was the first time they’d seen each other since March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of schools, and schools moved to online instruction.

They were cheered on by a welcome committee of teachers equipped with pom poms, balloons and well wishes for the fifth-grade graduates.

The vehicles — many with signs of appreciation of their own for their teachers and the school — slowly made it to several check points to pick up a bag of treats, receive their belongings that had been left in their desks untouched since spring break — and on to their teachers who had diplomas waiting.

School resource officers also cheered them on. The final check point allowed parents to return computers and other school property.

Some graduates stood waving through vehicle sunroofs. One student couldn’t help himself, and used his foot to beep the car horn as his mother got out to take a photo of her son’s teachers with her kids.

School counselor Lori Christie emceed the event, announcing each child’s name while those surrounding joined in a celebratory cheer: “You did it! You got it! You know it!”

“Our teachers are phenomenal and wanted to make it a spirited event. I don’t think they could have done a better job,” Principal Kirk Hutchinson said. “I’m really just thrilled with the work and effort our teachers, students and parents put in (throughout the coronavirus pandemic). It was truly a unique year.”

“This is history in the making,” said assistant teacher Marce Corbett. “The children will never forget this the rest of their lives. To take something so challenging and difficult … the kids and parents really did well.”

“This only strengthened the relationship between students and their parents, and their teachers,” said Bethany Burnett, fifth grade inclusion instructor. “It allowed parents to understand the range of responsibilities we have as teachers. To see it through Zoom firsthand, online three times a week. We had nearly 100% attendance doing Zoom. But the kids really missed that interaction with us. We’re like family.”

“I’ve been doing this for 28 years and we had to figure out how to hold class all over. I believe is has made us teachers better for it,” Burnett said.

Parent Vanessa Nichols and fifth-grade graduate Dylan Nichols enjoyed the drive-by parade so much, they pulled off into the parking lot to cheer on other elementary school graduates as they came through.

“It was awesome and I got to see all my teachers,” Dylan Nichols said.

“I had 10 minutes to kill and wanted to cheer the kids on,” Vanessa Nichols said, as they both stood up through the sun roof of their vehicle.

“Congratulations Jordan, have a great summer!” she said waiving as a vehicle passed by.

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