Caravan for Special Education Creates Smiles From 6 Feet Away

Education specialist Desiree Shaffer waves a “Go Bulldogs” sign to incoming cars of students and family members, who show their appreciation even behind windows and masks. From a safe distance, Shaffer stops to check in and chat with the families before sending them down the line of other cheerful staff members.

Ava Caleca and Kelthie Truong

Paper signs flutter in the afternoon breeze as staff members patiently await the next round of cars, equipped with joyful honking and eager passengers. 

Initiated by special education department chair Melody Resendez, the class caravan has taken place nearly every other Tuesday since the enforcement of Emergency Distance Learning. During this biweekly event, the special education department staff lines up in front of the campus gymnasium entrance, waving personalized signs and greeting students as families drive along the adjacent curb. 

The staff aims to use the caravan to provide a sense of normalcy for students, as current social distancing measures put roadblocks in the community-based learning opportunities that are foundational to special education class instruction. 

“That face-to-face personal interaction is really important for our students,” education specialist Desiree Shaffer said. “[EDL] is not the same as being in the same vicinity as you, your facial expressions, your animation… all the things that they’ve been used to for years. And to change that so quickly is tough.”

With a curriculum heavily reliant on physical interaction rearranged to accomodate a digital setting, the emotional connection between the students and staff also faces a degree of strain.

“They have a sense of comfort in knowing that they’re safe with us,” Resendez said. “When they’re physically around us, they’re safe, they’re protected, they’re loved, they’re cared for. That’s a huge piece for them, so to not physically be in our presence is hard. That’s why we do things like this caravan and Bulldog Crew, and we check in with them every day.”

Although EDL brings about a momentary barrier, the unprecedented effects of the pandemic have provided the department with new learning objectives for their students, who are surprising teachers and family members with their resilience despite the abrupt adjustments.

“Some of them are thriving,” Resendez said. “Some of them, we’ve found skills that we didn’t think were necessarily there, and they’re catching onto things. It has allowed us to see their potential in ways that they can access technology, in ways that I don’t think we could’ve necessarily discovered without this.”

With the academic year drawing to a close, the caravan and other programs-gone-virtual allow students to continue making memories, albeit non-traditional ones, until summer officially begins.

You know, during this pandemic time, it’s all about caring, having compassion and also all of us supporting one another, and that was what it was all about.”

— Julie Kim

“You know, during this pandemic time, it’s all about caring, having compassion and also all of us supporting one another, and that was what it was all about,” parent Julie Kim said. “I’m feeling very special as a parent, and as for our special needs kids, they felt very special too.”