As tough as it’s been for local students to transition to e-learning from home, teachers have also had a hard time adapting to work in the time of COVID-19 and not seeing their kids in person anymore.
Area schools know how hard their teachers have been working to keep molding young minds to do great things, so they’ve been showing their appreciation the best way they know how.
Drive-through events are becoming a phenomenon for everything from birthday parties to goodbyes, as they offer a safe solution to the problem of getting together to celebrate something when we’re all supposed to be standing no closer than six feet apart. Plant City schools’ teacher appreciation events have clearly been inspired by these drive-throughs because the spirit’s the same even if the methods are different.
Two examples of area schools throwing drive-through parties for their teachers came on May 7.
Early in the afternoon, Trapnell Elementary School’s faculty threw an island-themed drive-through teacher appreciation celebration at its bus ramp. All Trapnell teachers who drove up to the school that day got to chat with principal Krissy Perkins and AP Cortney Hastings, were given goodies and got to chow down on free Kona Ice in any flavor they wanted. The goodie bags contained thank-you cards, $30 Amazon gift cards and candy, and the “COVID jars” were filled with hand lotion, lip balm, gloves, Listerine strips, bath bombs and inspirational quotes.
“Everybody at home, we wanted to see them face-to-face and give them a little bit of our love and appreciation for what they do every day,” Perkins said. “It has not been easy. We serve a population that is very needy emotionally, socially, financially and academically, and it’s been difficult for our staff because they’re always here to provide those needs for our kids. Not being able to see the kids to give them advice, give them hugs — it’s taken a toll. So today, we’re just honoring all of those staff members for what they do every single day and letting them know it’s gonna be OK.”
Later that afternoon, Robinson Elementary School said goodbye to one of its most beloved teachers.
Armetta Jackson has been with the Hillsborough County School District for 44 years and no one would have anticipated her final year with her students and coworkers would be so rapidly and severely disrupted. Robinson had a choice: let Jackson slip away into the night quietly and unnoticed, or host a massive farewell that abided by social distancing while still making her feel appreciated. It’s no surprise they chose the latter.
It was a stage fit for royalty. Staff at Robinson crafted a staging area with a pink backdrop and two prominent chairs of honor. Jackson started the event sitting in her throne, but she didn’t stay there very long. A parade in her honor slowly weaved its way toward the front of the school and she jumped up to wave and share loving messages with everyone who drove by.
As a surprise for Jackson, the school had her son, who is a deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, lead the parade. After sharing his admiration for his mother, he drove toward the exit and directed traffic so cars could come and go without an issue.
At 5 p.m., the line of cars wrapped through the Robinson parking lot. Some of the more emotional drivers even looped around for round two and got back into the steady stream. Each car would drive up and students, staff, family, friends and even a dog would lean out the windows to shout their praise and sentimental words toward Jackson.
Nearly every car came with flowers and gifts and handmade signs were taped to the front and sides of many of the vehicles that drove through. You could practically feel the community spirit radiating from Jackson and her entourage.
Students shared how much they missed her, coworkers reminisced with some of their favorite stories from over the years and several brought inside jokes to the event. When a staff member drove up with her new baby Jackson was the first to lean toward the window and ask how they were doing. Other staff quickly swarmed the car, peering through the glass and cooing over the small passenger.
Confetti was thrown, music was blared and tears were shed. It was an unconventional sendoff, but one Jackson will surely never forget.
On Tuesday morning, Plant City High School teachers who drove up to the bus ramp got a ton of reminders of how much their school loves them.
PCHS set up several tents along its front sidewalk to give teachers their own goodie bags with hand sanitizer, coupons for local businesses and more, free lunch from Norma’s Plant City Cuban Sandwich Shop, snack bags from RaceTrac with chips, drinks and PayDay candy bars and cakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes provided by the school’s PTA. The five teachers who are retiring at the end of the school year were seated in one of the last tents, giving drivers the chance to chat with them before they end their careers, and the last station let the drivers turn in their letters to the seniors. Students from the school also came out to the bus ramp with signs in hand to cheer their favorite teachers on.
“We’ve been planning this for several weeks and we knew Teacher Appreciation Week was last week, but our teachers had to come in last week to clean out their rooms and we didn’t want them to have to work during Teacher Appreciation,” principal Susan Sullivan said. “It worked out really well. It seems like the teachers are loving it.”