Merritt Elementary hosts Summer Sendoff for students

NILES — Waves of cheers arose through the neighborhood surrounding Merritt Elementary School on Tuesday.

As each car passed, teachers waved to and cheered for their students being driven by the school. The school’s Summer Send-off event was underway.

In a tradition normally reserved for students’ last day of class, the staff and teachers gathered together in small groups along LaSalle Avenue in front of Merritt. Instead of waving to students peering out of yellow school buses, they waved to a slow parade of parents and guardians driving the students past. The teachers and staff members held signs of celebration and encouragement for the students and dressed in bright colors. The kindergarten through second graders peered their heads through the windows to smile, wave and celebrate with them. Some of the students’ cars had balloons or signs themselves.

Sara Gleason, kindergarten teacher at Merritt, cheered and wore a hat shaped like a colorful parrot.

Karen White, a second-grade teacher who is retiring this year, said the event was a good way to close out the year.

When COVID-19 arrived in Michigan, students’ last day in the classroom was March 13. At the time, neither students nor teachers knew it would be the last time they would be together in their classrooms for the year.

“We haven’t been able to connect with the kids,” White said. “We do this every year, but this year, it’s more special.”

According to Principal Matt Severin, who wore a colorful bow tie to the event, the Summer Send-off had many of the school’s students participate.

“There was 15 minutes of solid traffic,” Severin said of the procession. “We didn’t know what to expect at all.”

The event was pitched a couple of weeks ago. The two leading the way were the school’s secretary, Amanda Cousineau, and first grade teacher Colleen Dodd.

“It was emotional,” Cousineau said. “It’s been really hard. This was the closure that the staff and students needed. It was a school year that ended so abruptly.”

Severin said when the email was sent out suggesting the event, everyone showed up for the day.

“That’s this team,” Severin said. “They’re going to come together.”

As the cars stopped driving by, after about half an hour, the teachers began packing up their signs. Happy greetings and hugs were exchanged between the staff members as they readied to leave.

“It was a school year that ended so abruptly,” Cousineau said. “I was really happy we had such a good turnout.”