Norma Aguayo, left, stands by her daughter Nicole Aguayo, a second grade student at Aspen Community School, recieve the Aspen Distance Learning Champ Award from Carlos Lee, assistant principal, Thursday.

LaKendra Diaz couldn’t help but be a little intimidated by the spotlight Thursday night as she posed for a photo in front of Aspen Community School with the school’s wolf mascot.

The third grader was being recognized as a “Distance Learning Champ” by the school for her attendance and attentiveness in Carmina Armijo’s virtual classroom for the first quarter of the school year.

She wasn’t prepared for the spotlight provided by the vehicles of Aspen’s staff and families that illuminated the school, as well as the horn honking that accompanied it, as her mom and dad took pictures.

“I sometimes get stage fright, a little part of me,” Diaz said from the back seat of her car after receiving her packet of honors for her online academic performance.

She was among 27 students who were recognized by Aspen Principal Tina Morris, staff and members of the Student Leadership Council during a drive-thru ceremony. The event was a way of finding a sliver of light amid the dark clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morris said she and her staff wanted to find a way to honor students in person and do it in a way that was safe. Recipients were ushered to the school parking lot in their parents’ vehicles and were met by Morris and students. Each winner received a manilla packet with medals, certificates and a gift card for a free car wash for their parents.

Morris said students who regularly attended their online classes, participated in instruction and were working hard despite the challenges that learning from home can provide were recognized.

“I know we have some challenges to figure out, but we also have a lot to celebrate,” Morris said. “We’ve got kids who are taking care of business and parents who are doing a great job.”

It was also a way to foster some much-needed school spirit.

When the school year started with remote learning, Morris and her staff collaborated on ideas to engage students while keeping everybody safe. They held virtual assemblies, but Morris wanted something more that brought the Aspen community together.

So the school opted for a drive-thru ceremony, similar to the ones for class graduations in the spring.

“We are doing everything we can to celebrate and recognize their efforts,” Morris said. “So, keeping safety as the No. 1 priority, these drive-by celebrations are the best idea I have found for it.”

Recognition didn’t stop with the students. Morris said the free car washes were a way of recognizing the effort parents made to engage with teachers and their children during distance learning. Lucrecia Diaz, LaKendra’s mother, said she feels like she is a part of a team when it comes to helping LaKendra with her school work.

“[Armijo] says, ‘Check your kids’ Wednesday page. See if they have anything to catch up on,’ ” Lucrecia Diaz said. “ ‘If they do and they need help, reach out to me.’ She’s even available via cellphone. They have been more than helpful and we are more involved than ever in the school system.”

The reward was more than just what LaKendra found in her envelope. She couldn’t help but smile, even as her parents pulled away from Aspen. She didn’t expect so many people to attend the ceremony, but she was thrilled to have an audience — even if it was a little scary for her.

“I’ve never really been recognized like that,” LaKendra said.

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