Screenshots from a video created by staff members at St. Monica Parish School to thank the school’s parents. (Submitted photo)

The 2020-21 school year has been filled with challenges for educators, students and parents alike — so in a show of support and appreciation, staff at St. Monica Parish School in Whitefish Bay created a lighthearted video for the parents of their school community.

“We wanted the opportunity to do something fun and upbeat. This was just the perfect way to celebrate what we’ve accomplished in the last eight months,” said St. Monica School Principal Jordan Last. “It has taken so much time and energy to ensure the safety of our faculty and staff and our kiddos, and the parents really were catalysts in helping support our reopening plan. ‘Thank you’ just isn’t quite enough.”

In the three-minute video, almost every staff member in the St. Monica School building is depicted lip-syncing along to The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” with St. Monica music teacher Tiffany Wilson providing the background vocals (“Little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter” is one of the lyrics). Communications Coordinator Lynn McIntyre compiled the video, which also includes still images from throughout this extraordinary school year. The video was posted to St. Monica’s social media platforms and emailed to parents.

The video was initially suggested by St. Monica senior kindergarten teacher MariaAnna Gonzalez. “The idea came about one evening as I was watching something celebratory of the United States — it was just so beautiful and what came to my mind in that moment was how wonderful it would be for the school to celebrate all our parents do for us to stay open,” she said.

St. Monica’s students returned to classroom instruction in August, with no virtual component to their education, except for several students who have serious health concerns. Coming back to in-person school five days a week was a huge undertaking for staff, said Last, but it also required a tremendous amount of trust from the parish community, school commission, staff, maintenance team and medical advisory team. It never could have worked, she said, without the support of the parents and St. Monica’s pastor, Fr. Paul Hartmann, and associate pastor, Fr. Jordan Berghouse.

“They’ve done nothing but rally behind us,” she said.

A unique attribute of St. Monica’s faculty makeup is that many of the teachers are either current or former school parents. Last, Wilson and Gonzalez are all current parents. As a parent, Wilson described the return of in-person instruction as “the light my family needed.”

“I saw during (lockdown) how my boys were starting to struggle emotionally, and then my brother passed away in the summer, and they lost their uncle and really were starting to go into a deep depression,” she said. “Coming back to school and being with their peers and being with teachers that adore them has just brought that light back into their eyes. It was the hope that they needed.”

Through the year, Last said, the school community has worked together to become a well-oiled machine, even with the constraints imposed by COVID-19 safety precautions. “We are a family, and families stick together.”

Because of their community’s strong unity, the staff has been able to thrive. “As educators in the beginning of the school year, we have to set a goal. My goal was to just get through this year,” said Gonzalez. “Now that we’ve been six months in I look back and I’m like, ‘Wow. I made it. I can do anything now.’”

“I started this year thinking, ‘It’s OK to lower your expectations,’” said Wilson. “Looking back, I’m so proud to say I’ve been able to raise my expectations. I see all that I can actually do in this situation.”