A family displays supportive messages during the Valhalla Elementary School teachers parade in Pleasant Hill on Thursday, April 16, 2020. (Photo by Sam Richards/Bay City News Foundation)

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Connor Murray said he knew driving around and seeing his students again — live and in person, even if only fleetingly — would give him a boost.

Thursday’s lesson was that he missed them more than he realized.

“I was excited to begin with, but when I saw my first student, my heart jumped out of my chest,” said Murray, a third-grade teacher at Valhalla Elementary School in Pleasant Hill. He was one of about 30 teachers, administrators and staff who formed a vehicle caravan that, for almost 90 minutes on Thursday, toured the school’s attendance area in northern Pleasant Hill and southern Martinez.

There were kids and families in every neighborhood, hundreds of them altogether, and on some blocks there were enough people to test the notion of social distancing. Most of the cars were decorated with combinations of balloons, artwork, streamers and posters with the Valhalla teacher’s or staffer’s name.

Teacher Gena Hanko puts the final touches on her minivan with daughters Sophie and Stella before the start of the Valhalla Elementary School teachers parade.

The “teacher parade” idea isn’t brand new; educators and administrators at a number of schools throughout the Bay Area, and within Valhalla’s Mount Diablo Unified School District, have done similar caravans past students’ homes.

“I have heard from other principals in our district that having this type of event really brought them together, and that there were many smiles, cheers and tears,” Valhalla principal Lisa Keck said. “We discussed it and both felt it was such a great idea and that would bring our community together, so we went for it.”

Valhalla officials looked at the school attendance boundaries and mapped out all students’ addresses. From that, they charted a route designed to reach as many students and parents as possible in central locations, but far enough apart to adhere to the social distancing guidelines.

“I believe this event and the situation we are currently in will prove to bond our staff and students in a way that can never be replicated,” Keck said.

Marji Calbeck, former Valhalla principal and now the Mount Diablo district’s director of elementary support, had been part of a handful of other teacher parades in Pleasant Hill before Thursday.

“The first one I did, at Gregory Gardens (Elementary), was way more emotional than I thought it would be,” Calbeck said. “The kids are just as grateful to see their teachers as we are to see them.”

Gena Hanko, a fourth-grade teacher at Valhalla, said she wanted “a little eye contact” with her students on Thursday, “other than on Zoom.”

“I told my students I’m still their teacher, and that they can’t get rid of me for a few months,” she said.

Families (and others) lined the streets of Valhalla’s suburban neighborhoods, waving to the passing teachers, holding up signs, kids yelling to their own personal teachers, teachers waving and yelling back and honking car horns.

Two who waited for their teachers were Valhalla third-grader Miller Dimick and her first-grade sister Raylan Dimick, both with signs saying their teachers are awesome, and that they love and miss them.

“I miss how patient my teachers are with me when I don’t do something right,” Miller said.

When teachers ended up back in the Valhalla parking lot after the parade, many said it had been more fun and more fulfilling than they had expected — and some had said they expected a lot.

Murray said he saw more than half of his 25 students lining the streets.

“I felt so appreciated,” he said.