Wednesday, July 15, 2020
July 15, 2020

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Vancouver teacher’s trips through neighborhood a kind of Smiles on Wheels tour

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
4 Photos
Vancouver Public Schools art teacher Jennifer Patton in the Edgewood Park neighborhood in Vancouver on Monday. Patton has dressed up and paraded her neighborhood for the past week to spread joy during the school closures. She plans on continuing this every day until schools open back up.
Vancouver Public Schools art teacher Jennifer Patton in the Edgewood Park neighborhood in Vancouver on Monday. Patton has dressed up and paraded her neighborhood for the past week to spread joy during the school closures. She plans on continuing this every day until schools open back up. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In times of stress, a Vancouver Public Schools teacher is bringing joy to her neighborhood — albeit at a safe distance.

Jennifer Patton, an elementary school art teacher who works with disabled students, has been donning homemade costumes every afternoon since schools closed a week ago due to concerns about the coronavirus. From there, she clambers onto her bicycle or tricycle and heads out for a ride around the block in her Edgewood Park neighborhood.

She’s got a garage full of costumes, she said, dating back to the years she spent as a kindergarten teacher who dressed in costume almost daily. In the last week she’s been an octopus, Glenda the Good Witch and Evel Knievel. On Monday before the order came, she was joined by a few costumed-riders at a safe distance behind her. In Tuesday’s rain, she donned a yellow jacket a la the character Coraline from the movie and Neil Gaiman book by the same name.

“This is what I can do,” she said. “It’s something simple.”

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday issued a “stay home, stay healthy order,” effectively a shelter-in-place mandating the closure of all nonessential businesses. But the order made allowances for folks to leave their house for walks or exercise, so Patton figures as long as she maintains the 6-feet social distancing recommendation, she’ll be fine.

It’s worth it, she said, for the smiling faces of her neighbors sunning in their lawns, standing in their doorway or waving from the window.

“Their faces beam,” she said. “Everyone keeps saying ‘This is the high point of my day.’ ”

In a time of pandemic, when folks are turning to teleconference happy hours or online games to preserve some semblance of a social life, this is what Patton can offer. Besides, she said, we all need a little human interaction once in a while.

“Even though it’s the one thing we’re supposed to be careful of, it’s the one thing that will keep us sane,” Patton said.

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