COLLEGE PLACE — The trend is rolling across America and now around this community.

Teachers who can’t share classroom space with their students are taking to their rigs and the road, creating caravans for the express purpose of laying eyes on students.

On Friday nearly 100 vehicles driven by employees of College Place Public Schools went up, down, through and around town along a route designed to maximize student-sighting opportunities for the district’s first-ever “wave by.”

Schools around the nation are following the concept as a way to interact with the children who would normally be in attendance each day.

Sager Middle School social studies teacher Bruce Neil brought the idea to Principal Scott Kasenga.

“We both saw the videos, and he asked if we could do this,” Kasenga recalled.

The answer was “absolutely.”

With Gov. Jay Inslee’s most recent order to close schools at least until May 4 to slow the spread of COVID-19, the space between staff and kids widened a little more, Kasenga said Thursday.

Teachers in every school district everywhere are on the front line of fighting some of the effects of the coronavirus, he said.

“They are hearing from parents what their needs are right now,” Kasenga said. “It’s really a team effort to get students’ basic needs met and their educational needs met, too.”

Districts are deploying metric tons of online and printed school work to help students stay engaged with learning and as caught up as possible, but that doesn’t replace the need for social and emotional connections, experts say.

Those come from the day-to-day interactions with teachers and classroom peers that build trust and community, Kasenga said.

“Teachers are hard-wired to build relationships with kids, and when that is taken away …”

Well, that’s when staff agrees to deck out their rigs in signs, balloons, streamers, pom poms, stuffed animals and whatnot to drive around neighborhoods to honk and wave at children on the last Friday of the winter term.

“It’s a good send-off to spring break. We really enjoy seeing our students and that’s something we won’t take for granted anymore,” the principal predicted.

“It’s as big a deal to us as it is to our kids.”

That much was very clear.

The “wave by” kicked off by driving through the Valle Lindo neighborhood. Although children stayed in doorways or on porches, their smiles grew bigger as car after car after car went slowly through Campo Loop.

One young brother and sister exclaimed each time a teacher they recognized waved and grinned at them from the long line of vehicles snaking past their front door.

At noon, sisters Safi and Sawyer Board waited in the Highland Park neighborhood for the parade to arrive there.

Each hoisted a homemade sign created just that morning, according to their aunt Amber Davin.

Safi, 6, and Sawyer, 9, said they miss their teachers and miss being at Davis Elementary School.

As the assembly-on-wheels reached them, the two girls stood in awe at the unending caravan approaching from Southeast Fourth Street. One car bore an enormous teddy bear sprouting from a sunroof — that was occasion for much pointing.

“Bye, people from my school,” Sawyer called out, while her grandmother, Sandy Davin, smiled.

Along the route the Amick family had turned its shed into a temporary billboard, painting a huge red heart in the middle of “We Miss You” and the names of nine CPPS educators.

“It was great to see all these different families support us,” Kasegna said Friday evening.

As hard as coronavirus has made for many parts of life, it will also bring a renewed appreciation of school and community, he predicted.

“This is going to get people out volunteering again, coming to events and sports again, supporting kids,” he said.

Same goes for teachers, Kasenga added.

“We really enjoy seeing our students and that’s another thing we won’t take for granted anymore … This gave teachers a chance to feed that part of their soul.”

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.