By Thomas Santo, Principal, Zane North Elementary School, Collingswood, NJ
Zane North Elementary School in Collingswood, NJ, wanted to send some uplifting news to the school community but not by email. This news would have a different twist. It would come in person via a “Caravan of Compassion.” With the Superintendent Oswald’s support, Principal Santo partnered with Mrs. Jakimiak, fourth grade teacher, to organize a rolling car parade as a sign of appreciation to the Zane community. The Collingswood Chief of Police created a transportation route and offered a police patrol. Zane North staff adhered to the CDC guidelines and did not leave their cars at any time before, during or after the parade. Families were asked to remain on their own property. As responsible citizens the Zane community respected Governor Murphy’s orders regarding social distancing. As a 20-year elementary administrator the “Caravan of Compassion” ranks as a highlight of my career.
During the three hour adventure, a host of children, parents, neighbors, and alumni waved from sidewalks, driveways and porches. Time and time again, as the caravan rolled by homes, a message of hope was sent, a gesture of goodwill received and a commitment to community reinforced. Beyond email and text, the human connection via a simple caravan evoked tears, laughter and joy. Sirens, beeping horns, air hugs and more overwhelmed families, staff and this administrator. Parents put it this way: “I watched this and started crying!” “Awesome just awesome!” “The parade was nothing short of a ray of sunshine on a dreary day.” “It was so heartwarming seeing the whole Zane North staff together. It put a lump in my throat!” “The car parade brought so much joy to our family. We are so happy to be a part of this school and will never forget your graciousness, effort and support during this strange and challenging time!”
And the staff response was the same: “The Caravan of Compassion was a beautiful experience I will cherish forever. It was the best gas I ever used” “ Looking at the signs and smiling faces provided a sense of community that we have all been missing these last weeks.” “Nothing prepared me for the emotions I felt as I drove past kid after kid, family after family, sign after sign, cheering US on!” “And at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I believe this parade allowed us to be free for a while! To participate in something that was joyous and fun. It connected us back together on a level far more personal than any computer screen can.”
I close with the remarks of one staff member who stated: “Thank you, students and families, for being a ray of light among this darkness we are experiencing right now. I will never forget those three hours and it’s a story of hope and encouragement for generations to come. We are stronger together and we will get through this!”