Diane Stephen, a third-grade teacher at SeDoMocha Elementary School in Dover-Foxcroft, has her pickup truck decorated for a parade by teachers and staff through the communities of RSU 68 on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, to say hello and thank you to their pupils   who have been taking classes through remote learning since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Stacy Shorey can’t remember the last time she spent nearly three straight hours in a school bus.

“I think I was probably in fifth grade,” she said.

But the RSU 68 superintendent of schools was more than willing to relive that experience along with the teachers and staff at SeDoMoCha Middle and Elementary schools, who toured the district Wednesday morning to see their students in person for the first time in nearly three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We wanted to celebrate the end of the school year with the students,” Shorey said. “It’s been such a crazy time for both staff and our students that we just wanted to let them know how much we appreciate all the hard work they’ve done. We know it hasn’t been easy so we wanted to visit with them in this way.”

One bus and nearly 30 other vehicles began the caravan at the school complex and headed northwest along Route 15 to Monson where students were waiting with wide smiles and signs of support. The procession then reversed course back through Dover-Foxcroft en route to a similar scene in Charleston.

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From there the convoy proceeded north to Atkinson and then to the four corners in Sebec before returning to Dover-Foxcroft with a final ride through the downtown area behind four siren-sounding fire trucks before capping off the procession back at the schools.

The journey covered 74 miles and took 2 hours and 40 minutes, but to the participants it was a fast-paced chance to reunite with the focus of their shared profession — the students.

“Just traveling into each of the towns, being met at each place by local emergency vehicles and seeing the kids and their families out on the side of the road waving with their signs, it was a great end of the school year to see that,” SeDoMoCha Principal Adam Gudroe said.

“It was a good feeling. We haven’t had a whole lot of good feelings the last few months with the frustrations that came with COVID-19 and the closure of schools and trying to figure out how to still maintain some meaningful learning experiences for our students — and just being able to end it on this note was great.”

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Students last met for school at SeDoMoCha on March 12, and by the end of the ensuing weekend those conventional classrooms were closed, replaced by remote learning.

“We had an inservice day and we started prepping thinking it might be coming,” Shorey said. “Then that weekend we had a conference call with the commissioner [of education] and things happened really quickly.

“I was calling everybody Sunday night to let them know that we wouldn’t be in on Monday. We did a really quick turnaround on Tuesday and got all the devices out to our students and we were up and running.”

Home-based education became the norm for the rest of the academic year, which for SeDoMoCha students concluded last Friday — when the procession originally was scheduled only to be postponed due to President Donald Trump’s visit to neighboring Guilford.

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Third-grade teacher Diane Stephen celebrated the last day of school by hosting a virtual ice cream party with her class. She saw the procession as one more chance not only to see her students in person before the summer break, but also an opportunity to thank those who suddenly were thrust into the role of at-home educators.

“Everybody has just stepped up to this challenge, and I think it’s brought us closer together as a community,” she said. “There’s definitely an appreciation for both sides more now. I know I thank my [students’] parents every single day because I don’t know how they’re doing it.”

Stephen — who decorated her pickup truck for the parade — found Wednesday’s event both celebratory and therapeutic.

“It’s our way to say thank you to our community, our essential workers that have been working hard, our students, our staff, the parents and caregivers — just everybody that has pulled together during this crazy, unforeseen time and accepted new challenges,” she said.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...