Rotarians Give Students a Glimpse of the Old Normal

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Local Rotarians Albert Hernandez, Barry Gussow and Kelli Lowers worked to bring a little normalcy to the students of Washington Elementary School.

People of all ages dressing as ghouls, goblins, witches or popular-culture characters for Halloween.
That’s a normal late October occurrence.
Teachers personally interacting with their students.
That’s a normal school-day occurrence.
Children losing themselves within the stories and pictures of a new book.
That’s a normal childhood occurrence.
Sadly, these are not normal times.
“We’re living in a time when normalcy is in short supply,” said Albert Hernandez of the Burbank Noon Rotary Club. “Because of that, we wanted to do something to bring about a sense of normalcy — to give kids the chance to dress up for Halloween, get to see their teachers or, in some cases, to actually meet them for the first time, and be given an age-appropriate book they can enjoy.”

That mission, a part of Rotary International’s literacy program, was accomplished this past week as the Burbank Noon Rotary Club teamed with the Burbank Sunrise Rotary Club to hold a drive-thru book distribution event at Washington Elementary School.
“We purchased 523 books and, along with their principal, Randi Young, and their teachers, we will be safely handing them out to each child,” Noon Rotary President Barry Gussow said at the event. “Working with Albert, who is the chairman of this event, and Kelli Lowers, who is the president of Sunrise Rotary, this is a part of the regrouping and reorganizing we have been doing to continue our mission of being of service to our community during these times that are challenging our normal way of life in every way.”
Dressed in costumes, Principal Young and her teachers welcomed students who had the opportunity to visit with their teachers, many of whom they know only from distance learning via their computers.
“We are very grateful to Albert Hernandez, who is one of our parents,” said Young. “He reached out to me to do this event and we were very supportive of doing it. Along with getting a book, our students are getting the chance to meet or reconnect with their teachers and show off their costumes. It is also very special for our teachers, who have really missed the one-on-one personal connection with their students.”
That connection was clearly on display, in a joyous and touching moment, when twin 4th-graders Leila and Nathaniel Advento were greeted by their teacher, Debbie Gal.
While Nathaniel, costumed as Emmet Brickowski from “The LEGO Movie,” looked on, his sister Leila, decked out as a princess, expressed her excitement over seeing Gal by holding her hands to her face in a gesture of gratitude.
After spending a few moments catching up with the Advento twins, Gal, who is Washington’s special education teacher, said goodbye and watched as they pulled away waving with their mother, Villa, at the wheel.
“It was so wonderful to see them,” said an emotional Gal. “We just had a short time together, but I told them I’ll see them online and we’ll share our stories about seeing one another and talk about the books they got.”
As the Adventos’ car disappeared from sight, Gal revealed the same frustration so many teachers have been expressing since this new and not at all normal school year began.
“Not being able to really interact with them is difficult,” said Gal. “But I am so proud of them, and all my students, for working hard as we all come together to figure out distance learning. I’m also proud of the parents of my students. Just like teachers and students, they are figuring this all out too, and by being so much more involved in their kids’ school day they are making my work more challenging, which is a good thing. It’s a way for all of us to learn how to deal with challenges and something that is new and different.”
Returning to the reception line where her fellow teachers were lined up to greet more kids, Gal, dressed as a Tim Burton-inspired character, took her place within the group of educators outfitted as witches, Minions and even Larry the Twitter bird, who represents freedom, hope and limitless possibility.
Perhaps for Halloween 2020 that costume, which was worn by 1st-grade teacher Theresa White, may be the most appropriate. It is in the tenets that the little bluebird stands for, along with caring teachers and members of the community, that we are all able to keep the faith. They remind us that even in a world in which normalcy is in short supply, love and caring for one another remain abundant.

David Laurell may be reached at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

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