Justin Adams was reviewing chapter four of To Kill A Mockingbird when a slightly malnourished dog stumbled out from the woods and onto the freshly sunburned grass behind Olmstead School. She stealthily made her way up the hill and came within feet of the attentive eighth-grade students before they ever noticed-Mr. Adams really knows how to captivate a crowd. The thin and weathered dog, later named “Bagel” by the students, walked from student to student, earning a pat or two with each measured stop. She found a place to rest next to a student whose petting hands blocked the sting of the beaming sun. Bagel listened intently to the discussion of the book as if she were enrolled in the class as well, reminding the student above her that she needed her wispy coat to be stroked every three seconds or so.
The true beauty of a dog is not evident in the way it looks, rather it lies within its innate ability to view life through a lens of simplicity. When a dog’s stomach growls to remind it of hunger, it finds food. If its floppy tongue no longer sprays slobber to the ground as it walks, it finds water. If the rain is falling hard enough to penetrate through its fur or a cold wind pierces its skin, it will find shelter.
There are four things, however, that all dogs are constantly in search of: attention, affection, care, and love. Bagel will be given food or she may stumble upon it from time to time, but what she found when she wandered onto the grounds of Olmstead School was exactly what she needed; she found an abundance of attention, affection, care, and love.
In a world that has become so complex, it’s easy to miss out on the powerful impact of simplicity. We cannot summit the towering mountain of the pandemic and allow its casted shadow to hide the core necessity and true mission of each school, which is to provide an environment of love and care for all students. It’s important for students to learn standards and to become prepared for life beyond and outside of the classroom, but what they deserve on a daily basis is attention, affection, care, and love. If you walk the halls of Olmstead School in search of what children need most, that’s exactly what you’ll find.
The pandemic has created a school system and environment that is more complex and different than ever before. At times, I fear that our nation may be headed toward the world that Ray Bradbury antagonistically foreshadowed in The Pedestrian, where humans are glued to technology as adhesively as tar on blacktop; however, I’m confident that communities like Olmstead and Logan County will prevent that from ever happening. I look into classrooms and see dividers separating the students, but the plastic barriers do not block the passion that each teacher displays. I see masks covering the mouths of our students and staff, but they cannot silence the happiness and pureness that each voice projects. A picture may show a school that looks more complex and different than any we have experienced, but a walk through the hallway will remind you how simple it truly is to provide attention, affection, care, and love for our students. It’s easy to get stuck in the spirals of the whirlwind that the pandemic has caused, but I’m confident that we will all be able to provide our students with an enriching and meaningful experience if we focus on simplicity.
I saw Bagel the following day and offered her a platter of tasty snacks. She was presented with sausage taken out of a breakfast biscuit from the cafeteria (sorry, Shannon), treats that Nurse Susan provided, two pieces of chicken from my lunch, and a half-eaten piece of jerky that had been in my truck for a few days. I tried for a minute or two to get her to eat because I knew that she was hungry. I made a ten-second attempt to test her obedience to see if she could sit or shake. She certainly needed food, and she would surely benefit from learning to be obedient, but what Bagel needed in that moment was much simpler than that. Bagel simply needed attention, affection, care, and love. Bagel the beagle-looking dog taught me a wonderful lesson that day and reminded me of what matters most when we have children in our school buildings. It’s really quite simple.