Ask students what their lives have been lacking in the five weeks or so that all schooling has been done online from home — or wherever your laptop or device is — most will say some version of, “I miss my school friends.”

Teachers and administrators miss their students, too, and the interaction and daily connections that formed, and probably help learning happen on the daily.

The teachers and staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in St. Cloud came up with a uniting project during the coronavirus pandemic and part of its weekly Crusader Community Challenge that united students in thanking those keeping the community up and running during a tough time — the local, everyday heroes like first responders, truck drivers, airport workers, delivery personnel, postal workers, restaurant employees, and more.

The original plan was to “chalk the walk” and draw inspirational messages in parking lots at grocery and big-box hardware stores for the employees, but logistics made that tough. The project then turned to making elaborate banners to take that ended up going to Publix, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Sidelines Sports Grill, St. Cloud Police Department andf  St Cloud Regional Medical Center. In social media, students submitted short video clips of them making the banners and delivering personalized messages to those that have kept us safe during this pandemic. NG Production Films donated their time putting this video together.

“We wanted to keep the kids involved in the community, and give thanks to those going out there every day,” said Marjorie Smith, STA’s tuition and scholarship director. “The participation has been wonderful, it’s the plus of our school community being like a small family. We hope to have time the rest of the school year, we’d like to move on to ‘mom and pop’ businesses that have been able to stay open.”

STA Principal Nick “Mr. Pav” Pavgouzas said that even if students aren’t in classrooms together, they still can act together.

“This allows our kids to connect to this project if they couldn’t be with us. It also helps recognize that we all play a part in helping the community right now,” he said. “One of our three pillars as a school community is serving others. We’re not just St. Thomas Aquinas, we’re St. Cloud, and even if our students and teachers haven’t been together for over a month we’re continuing to be connected.”