by Mr. Williamson
Every morning at 8:45 A.M. I leave the emails, accounts, simulators, and other Space Education Center issues to put on my “pumpkin suit”, - a florescent orange with pee yellow stripes safety vest. Another ‘hat’ I wear, that you may not be aware of, is that of a crossing guard. Every morning for eight years, I’ve welcomed the students of Central Elementary School at the corner of 100 East and 400 North. I sometimes stand and sometimes pace back and forth at the crosswalk trying to pass the 20 minutes with “Good mornings” to the students as they walk by and a few jolly waves at the cars. I’m not one who initiates the wave but I’ll always return one.
I get to see the seasons change over my 180 days on the street. I bake in the summer and freeze in the winter. Some days I hide from the Arctic wind behind my red and white umbrella. Other days it is hard to see the cars through the blowing snow. I’ve come very close to planting my face into the street because of icy roads - saved only by an entertaining step dance accompanied by frailing arms followed by an embarrassed expression and laughing children.
I volunteer for this morning responsibility. It is a gift to the teachers of Central School. Without having to do morning duty they can spend more time in their classrooms preparing lessons. I benefit as well. Without duty I would never leave the darkness of the cloistered world of a Space Center Director.
One morning last week, I had the job of greeting a new student to Central. My usuals had crossed and moved toward the building;
The three buddies - three third grade boys inseparable in friendship. They run down the hill hiding behind telephone poles and street signs. They call it the car game. You run when there are no cars and hide when you see one. Don’t worry if you don’t get it - it is a third grade thing.
Then there are the younglings - a kindergarten and second grade brother and sister who always have something from the dollar store to show me. I do my best to have an amazing comment for each treasure. Sometimes all they get is a ‘Interesting’, like last Tuesday when she showed me a dinosaur with a missing left leg. “Cheap Chinese rubbish,” I said. She didn’t understand so I said “Interesting”.
‘Silence’ is the girl that never responds to anything I say. She crosses stone faced. I know she is a Vulcan. She does a good job hiding her pointed ears but you can’t fool an old Star Trek fan.
My entire reason for living has changed from turning the Space Center into an international franchise into getting her to laugh. Start with big dreams but learn to accept small victories. The “Pack” is the gaggle of sixth grade girls that walk slowly down the hill. The reason for this crawl is to arrive just as the bell rings to avoid an additional two to three minutes of class time. They are my kind of people! Why spend more time in purgatory then required ;)
I can’t forget the “Sprinters”. They try to beat me to the crosswalk in the morning. They move slowly toward the crosswalk - watching for me to exit the school's doors. Suddenly I come into view. Their little legs sprint into action to beat me to the crosswalk . I let them win from time to time. I enjoy seeing their smiles extend from ear to ear.
One day last week, a different car pulled up on the opposite side of the street. A lady I didn't recognize, accompanied by a young girl, stepped from the car. I walked out into the empty street and belted out my usual "Good Morning". The lady smiled and responded with the usual reply. The little girl hesitated while looking me over carefully. She gave a smile that had that ‘Stranger Danger’ feel.
“It’s her first day here at Central,” the mom said.
“You’re new to our school?” I responded by bending over to speak directly to the girl.
“Yes,” she replied.
They walked onto the sidewalk and started toward the school. I turned back to the street and found my Vulcan approaching. I started thinking of something clever to say when I felt a tugging at my pant leg. I looked down and saw Central’s newest kindergartner looking up at me with big brown eyes.
“Iths my firtht day at thchool!” she said with excitement. I looked up at her mom. She was smiling.
“Well, we are glad your here with us. You’ll love your new teacher,” I said in the sing song voice one uses with children.
“I’m five,” she continued completely oblivious to my last statement. At that, she released my leg and ran back to her mother. Hand in hand they entered the school.
It was a simple exchange of words but the meaning was profound. This young girl was embarking on a journey in life that would take years to complete. Pure excitement was reflected in her eyes. She loved being at school.
I thought how wonderful it would be if we could bottle that excitement and use it as the primary ingredient in the school lunch program. What a difference it would make.
Just then the Vulcan stepped up on the curb and passed me without a word. Her look was one of complete indifference. What had happened to her from kindergarten to whatever grade she was in? One day I’ll get her to laugh. There is nothing else that matters now. That which was - must be restored again! I am the Spirit of Education! I will find the lost and abandoned. I will recharge the lifeless and bring a spark back to imaginations in atrophy!
Or....... I’ll take off my pumpkin suit and go back to emails, accounts, phone calls, and the simulators.
Isn’t it great to have the ability and opportunity to make a difference? I’ll choose to make a difference.
That little girl created a memory that will help me work through the tough days.