Students, teachers at White Bear Lake school reunite with motorcade 'field trip'

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In the midst of the pandemic, faculty and staff members at Lincoln Elementary School in White Bear Lake decided they needed to do something special for their students.

“We really care about them, we really miss them,” Principal Dan Schmidt said. “It’s been a month with this long-distance learning, let’s do it ourselves. Let’s go for it.”

So, it was time for a field trip. But with the COVID-19 threat, how do you set up a safe meet-and-greet?

With wheels, of course.

“Got the White Bear Lake police involved, and some sirens going,” said Josh Maloy, a fifth-grade Lincoln teacher. “It’s going to be fun to see all the kids.”

"Just to see their smiling faces on the side and let them know we support them is a really big deal to us,” added Nancy Thom, who also teaches fifth graders. 

It took quite a bit of planning for the much longed-for reunion.

Dozens of cars, pickups and SUVs were decorated with teachers’ names and messages like, “You are amazing” and “We miss you!”

“This is great, this is amazing!!!” exclaimed Schmidt. “Look at them, they’re all excited, they got the cars spruced up, ready to go."

The surprise evolved into an hour-long motorcade that wound around the streets of White Bear Lake, including a swing by Eagle Brook Church.

Dozens of students and parents gathered there to celebrate in the reunion.  

“We went on spring break and never came back,” says Lauren Robbins, a mother of four. “We're super-excited, I know the kids really miss being in school, and just seeing their friends and their teachers, really love them.”

At least some of Lincoln’s 474 students, 21 teachers, and 55 licensed and support staff were happy together, after weeks of safe-distancing learning.

But that good feeling was tempered just a bit after Gov. Tim Walz announced there would be no more face-to-face instruction for the rest of the school year.

"I'm having a hard time being close to my friends because I'm not used to staying home so much,” said Cecilia Robbins, a first grader at Lincoln.

“After today’s announcement by Gov. Walz, there might be some tears coming,” Thom says.

Teachers at Lincoln say they are hoping to plan an event for fifth graders, who are leaving to go on to middle school.

“Unfortunately for us, they left on spring break the week before this all went down,” Thom explains. “For us to just send them out, ‘Woo-hoo it’s spring break' and to not ever get to see them come back to the school was really a hard thing. It’s been a rough last couple of weeks.”

Minnesota students of all levels will now continue the rest of their school year learning online.

Gov. Walz said he hasn’t made a decision about whether there might be school closings in the fall.

“It’s a haul for us parents to be managing between school and work,” Lauren Robbins said. ”But just happy they can stay connected in some way to their friends.”

At least for today, there was laughter, plenty of smiles, and words of thanks — the student-teacher bond, celebrated now more than ever.

“It gives us an opportunity to see our teachers again,” Cecilia said. “I like that we get to see our teachers and you can see other people right now that we haven’t seen in a while.”