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Baltimore’s Federal Hill Prep School drive thru event reunites teachers, students during coronavirus pandemic

Teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School drive through the neighborhood greeting their students.

After about a month of virtual play dates and distance learning, Federal Hill Preparatory School first grader, Cooper Bruchey was able to see many of his teachers and classmates in real life despite the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

He and his school friends visited — all from the safe distance on a sidewalk near the school —while their teachers drove by.

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About 30 teachers from Cooper’s school participated in the Bee Happy: Neighborhood Drive Thru. The staff spent Wednesday afternoon in their cars waving, smiling and beeping their way throughout a two-mile loop that included the Sharp-Leadenhall, Otterbein and Federal Hill neighborhoods.

Deborah Stella Malaney, 8, a third grader, waves a flag as her teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School drive through the neighborhood greeting their students. April 22, 2020
Deborah Stella Malaney, 8, a third grader, waves a flag as her teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School drive through the neighborhood greeting their students. April 22, 2020(Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Some teachers attached balloons or garland to their cars. Organizers said that they reached 120 families whose children attend the school. The event was fun for the teachers and the kids and a welcome break for parents.

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“We’re doing it because we miss our kids,” said music teacher and organizer, Tess Owen, who got the idea after seeing similar efforts on social media from around the country.

Owen and the school notified parents about the event last week. Parents were told to practice social distancing while standing with their children along the caravan route.

Ashley Rodriguez and her son Freddy Rodriguez, 5, hold a sign as they wait for teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School to drive through the neighborhood greeting their students. Freddy is a pre-k student in Mr. Jones' class. April 22, 2020
Ashley Rodriguez and her son Freddy Rodriguez, 5, hold a sign as they wait for teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School to drive through the neighborhood greeting their students. Freddy is a pre-k student in Mr. Jones' class. April 22, 2020(Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

“We are all wishing we could be back together in our school building so just being able to see each other—even from a distance—is exciting,” Owen added.

The school has provided daily virtual lessons and assignments throughout the COVID-19 crisis. And parents said that their children had been able to communicate through virtual play dates and via technology. But the experience of seeing members of their school community in real life made the day special.

Five-year-old Parker Fore and his mom Tia Fore hold a sign for teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School as they drive through the neighborhood waving at their students. Parker is a pre-k student at the school.
Five-year-old Parker Fore and his mom Tia Fore hold a sign for teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School as they drive through the neighborhood waving at their students. Parker is a pre-k student at the school. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

“We weren’t sure if it would work for us since our school is located downtown and it’s not a traditional neighborhood,” said Owen, who led the caravan of 25 vehicles, including a Baltimore City Police Department escort car. “It was so much fun. All the feedback was that [this] was needed. We were shocked by how many kids showed up. We had kids at every spot on the route. “

Cooper, 6, said it felt “good” because “I could see my friends again.

He admitted to being sad during the time away from school so far.

Cooper’s parents, Ann-Marie and Ryan Bruchey, appreciated the school’s effort.

“It was just heart-warming,” Ann-Marie Bruchey said. “It made my son’s day. It was a wonderful idea for the children.”

She added: “[My husband] thought it was great. He said, ‘that was really amazing.’”

Teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School drive through the neighborhood greeting their students.
Teachers from Federal Hill Preparatory School drive through the neighborhood greeting their students. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Anat Gimburg’s husband, Yury, took their children, Raviv, a 7-year-old first grader, and Matan, a 4-year-old pre-schooler to see their teachers on parade.

“I thought it was pretty thoughtful for them [to do,]” Anat Gimburg said. “It’s hard for the kids to express all the differences [they are experiencing.] They miss their friends. And they miss the structure. Any sort of opportunity to feel connected back to their school community is a nice thing."

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Raviv said seeing his teachers was the highlight of the day.

“We haven’t seen them in a while in person,” he explained. “We wouldn’t get to for another month because of coronavirus.”

He also misses seeing his school friends.

“It’s sad because [I’m] used to seeing my friends a lot of days in a row. And it’s just sad because I don’t get to see anybody that much.”

The event was a change of pace for the entire Gimburg family as they have sheltered at home, balancing work and family. Anat Gimburg is an architect and her husband, Yury, works in finance.

“It’s definitely a challenge," she said. "It’s a daily coordination. We map out our calendars and trade off being with the kids and being on [work] calls. There are a lot of late nights. We try and keep the weekends work-free. It’s tough,” she said. “We do recognize how fortunate we are. We are healthy. In a lot of ways, we feel very fortunate. “

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