NORTH WILDWOOD — As 11-year-old Billy Sherwen pulled a stick of chalk across the sidewalk outside Wildwood Catholic Academy on Saturday morning, he said he had missed seeing his classmates.
He drew SpongeBob SquarePants because “it’s one of my favorites. It’s hilarious,” he said.
Groups of families were gathered at the school for its Socially Distant Sidewalk Chalk Festival. The event was a chance for students to see their friends, organizers said, and an opportunity to share an activity with the community.
“It’s just good to see everybody,” Kelly Romano said as she watched her children, Nora and Quinn, work in their square. “It’s great to see the kids get a touch of normalcy in a crazy world.”
Each group was assigned a numbered square of the sidewalk, spaced out along East 16th and Central avenues. Children and parents drew characters from cartoons and books, rainbows and fish. Several included the letters WCA, the initials of the school as of two months ago, after friends, family and alumni raised more than $1 million to help keep it open.
Wildwood Catholic had been targeted for closure by the Diocese of Camden, but the fundraising effort allowed the high school to merge with Cape Trinity Catholic Elementary School to form the pre-kindergarten-through-12th grade academy.
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Back on the sidewalk, Elouise Worthington, 7, drew a planet where only mermaids live. There was a short discussion about whether the creatures fared better in salt or fresh water, but she decided they live in both.
“It really beautifies the street,” said her mother, Rhiannon. “I think it’ll make people smile as they drive by.”
Art teacher Sheila McCloy-Nuss said the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted life for the kids.
“They haven’t been able to enjoy the great sense of camaraderie intrinsic to our school,” she said. “Our students haven’t been able to participate in all of the fantastic summer camps that we had planned, and we miss them. Our students and families are amazing. There is a strong sense of community; we all love being together.”
When participants arrived, they checked in with registration and found their square. Each one had a bag with scented chalk, and McCloy-Nuss handed out drinks and pretzels. Even though the event was held outdoors, organizers required families to bring masks, just in case.
Wildwood Catholic High School in North Wildwood will remain open.
After Principal Joe Cray went up to the roof of the school to take a before picture of the sidewalk, he milled about, talking with parents and children.
“It’s a neat way for community building, where we can gather safely and socially distance,” Cray said. “Any chance we can bring our community and families to the schools is a wonderful opportunity to let people know about our schools and our programs.”
This is not the first event the school has put on through the pandemic. Like many others in South Jersey, Wildwood Catholic has been working to create activities that engage students and families while keeping everyone safe.
In the spring, the school hosted a drive-by Easter egg hunt throughout Cape May County, McCloy-Nuss said. Students made giant 2-foot eggs and displayed them in their yards while families drove around on the hunt.
“I’ve taught at other schools, but Wildwood Catholic Academy really is unique among schools, and at this time we still want to celebrate togetherness, while staying safe and caring for each other by keeping them safe too,” McCloy-Nuss said.
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