‘All the world loves a parade,” the expression goes, especially the members of the Garfield School community. On the sunny morning of April 20, shut-in students and families were treated to parade of their teachers and other Garfield staff members. A cavalcade of about 30 cars left the school at 10 a.m. and toured the north side of Forest Park.
The cars not only contained Garfield employees but many of their family members. They displayed homemade signs to cheer up the stuck-at-home students. The students and their families had been notified when the procession was going to pass by their homes, and they made their own signs to greet their teachers.
The students were jubilant, smiling and waving. They needed this kind of diversion after weeks of being cooped up. It showed how much the students miss school and their classmates. “The best part of the day was seeing the excitement of the students and parents,” Principal Jamie Stauder said. She appreciated seeing their smiling faces and “wonderful” homemade signs.
“It truly was an uplifting experience of which I may have shed a tear or two,” said Stauder, one of several organizers of the parade. Kindergarten teacher Erica Whittington was also a driving force. Afterward, she said, “I know it was supposed to be for the students, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was definitely for us too.”
Whittington helped in the planning, which included getting Mayor Hoskins’ permission for the parade. It was originally scheduled for the previous week but twice cancelled due to snow. Finally, the weather cooperated and cars started arriving at Garfield at 9:30 a.m. Parent Teacher Council President Manda Kamdar was already there serving donuts and coffee.
Forest Park Police Officer Keith Banaszak was also on hand to line up the cars and lead them in the parade. Stauder was thankful to Village Administrator Tim Gillian for providing the police escort. She also appreciated Superintendent Lou Cavallo coming out to support the Garfield staff. As the parade wound its way through the streets, drivers sounded their horns to announce their arrival.
“I was crying, cheering and smiling,” Whittington said, “what a mix of emotions! There were older folks coming out and thanking us, as well as moms and babies.” Whittington observed that the parade gave everyone a sense of community. “We have shown our school community that Garfield is a school that cares!”
Stauder said it was wonderful to see her staff again. “We haven’t been together in person for over a month.” The district’s director of communications, Scott Dunnell, who was instrumental in publicizing the parade, was on hand to take photos. He had also arranged for professional photographer, Alan Bourgeois, to capture the event.
I know firsthand how these types of parades can lift spirits during dark times. A parade was organized for my grandson Brody’s sixth birthday. About a dozen cars drove past his driveway. His friends and classmates were waving and cheering and Brody was beaming. It was so much fun, we took another lap.
I also listened to a psychologist talk about how isolation is impacting students. They miss their friends desperately and it’s difficult for their parents to keep their spirits up. A Garfield staff member said we all have to find our joy during these difficult times. I found my joy watching a film about the Chicago Bulls. Garfield students and staff found their joy in just seeing the faces of the people they miss.
“Our parade spoke louder than any signs ever will!” declared Whittington.