Wertz Sisters Lead Parade of Teachers Through Town to Greet Students

A Merrimack alumna and her sister, a current education major, participated in a driving parade through Stoneham, Massachusetts to greet students stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Renée Wertz ’07 and her sister Rylan Wertz ’22 led a caravan of teachers parading through the streets of Stoneham, Massachusetts to say hello to their students on March 27, 2020.

Renée is a fourth grade teacher at the South School in Stoneham. Rylan, a human development and human services education major, served a practicum at the school this semester with fourth grade teacher Nicole Higgins.

With little warning before schools were closed on March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic, many teachers didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to their students. Inspired by postings they saw on social media, Renée and Higgins came up with the idea of parading past the homes of South School students to reassure them and stay connected.

There were as many as 40 cars in the parade decked out with banners and signs saying hello. Students, parents and even residents without children in the school came out of their homes – maintaining six feet of social distancing – to hold their own signs and share the moment the parade passed.

“It was awesome and a lot of fun,” Renée said. “I think it was what everybody needed, too.”

Renée and Higgins spent two days poring over maps to mark out the parade route. They even test drove the route to ensure they wouldn’t run into dead ends or cul-de-sacs that would bottleneck the parade. As plans developed, they invited teachers from the town’s other two schools to hold their own parades.

Renée said she was concerned she would lead everybody down a wrong turn or miss a street and disappoint students. She was relieved when police agreed to lead the caravan of cars.

Renée was in the first car behind the police officer with Rylan and their mother Julia who also works at the school.

As the parade processed through the streets, families were updating Facebook group chats, uploading pictures and videos.

“At first I wasn’t sure how it would go because it was going to take two hours,” Rylan said. “But I got to see a lot of students from my classroom. I really enjoyed it.”

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