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Courtesy of W.O. Gray Elementary School

Teacher Makes Students Smile Amid COVID-19 School Closures With Drive-By Visits

As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has closed schools across the country, kids are learning at home, missing their friends and teachers dearly. In the face of this obstacle, one creative Texas teacher did drive-by visits with her students as a means of staying connected during this difficult time and the photos her school posted of the outreach have quickly gone viral.

Brandy Hurtado, a teacher at W.O. Gray Elementary School, tells Romper that she came up with the idea to visit her students, from a safe distance, after FaceTiming them one-on-one so they had her "undivided attention" as they worked on lessons during school closures amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. "While working with one of my students, I could tell he was upset," Hurtado tells Romper. "So I was trying to figure out how I could work around everything that is going on and accommodate his needs still."

Along with distance teaching her students, Hurtado is also homeschooling her 11-year-old son Aiden, who she says has been floored by all of the media coverage his mom has been getting after the school's photos of her efforts on Facebook went viral, getting more than 9,000 shares. Suffice it to say, she understands the complex emotions parents and children are experiencing.

Since she couldn't be in close proximity with her students due to social distancing guidance from public health officials, she looked for a loophole to safely be there for them in person: a quick visit in the car while holding a sign that said, "I miss you."

"If I'm in my car and he's on his porch, it's still practicing social distancing," she says. "And so I contacted each parent and set up a schedule of visits." That schedule included evening visits after parents' workdays were done. While the parents were always aware that Hurtado was coming over, it was a surprise to most of her students. "I pulled up and some of them saw me through their window and smiled; some of their parents brought them to the door and covered their eyes and when they uncovered them to see me, the kids tried to take off running to my car," she said while laughing.

But as happy as the kids were to see their teacher, she "may have needed it even more than they did," according to Hurtado. "Not knowing when I'll get to walk back [into the classroom] and see the kids' faces was really sad. I didn't get to see all of them [during the drive-by visits] but my hope is to do more, but it will really be based on what we're allowed to do."

Despite all of the praise and media coverage Hurtado is receiving, she assured Romper that she's "not the only teacher at my school" putting students' needs first. "For us, the most important thing is the relationships with our students," she says. "They need to know that you're there for them and that you have their best interests at heart."

For those parents struggling to meet the emotional and educational needs of students mourning their lost school time, Hurtado recommends trying to maintain connections with the people that matter to them — even if it requires a bit of creativity. "Let them know that their teachers are still there for them," she says, "even if they can't be there with them."

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.