Third graders flew from their classrooms in an effort to be first on the playground equipment during their fifteen minute morning recess. Such “frivolous” use of school time was frowned upon by the experts, but those experts obviously never read the research supporting the effects of exercise, play and fresh air on the learner’s brain. They obviously never worked with a room full of eight- and nine-year-olds either. I stopped my morning tour of campus for a moment to watch the children scatter and their teachers relax in the warm Arizona sun. I am sure there must be some research out there to support the benefits of recess on the teacher mind as well.
I walked over to Mrs. Loughlin who had playground duty while her cohorts went to check their mail and grab a soda from the lounge. We shared a few pleasantries before I was tackled from behind, the full force of little forty-pound Rogelio hitting me with a thud. He wrapped his arms around me and giggled. “Did I scare you?” he chuckled. I ruffled up his hair and told him he shouldn’t be giving this old man such grief.
“Aw, come on old man!” he squealed, and he was off to play in the sand.
“He sure loves you,” Mrs. Loughlin noted.
“He about gave me a heart attack!” I replied with a grin. “I’ve known that kid since kindergarten, Dolores. He is a special kid.” I told her how the little boy and I had had several conversations on the sidewalk, at the picnic tables and even in my office (he was a “semi-frequent flyer”) over the past four years. I learned a lot about his family life, his fears and his warped sense of humor.
“When will I ever get big?” he blurted out one day. “Look at me! I’m the shortest kid in my grade!”
“You just wait, kid. You get in fourth grade, I won’t even recognize you – you’ll be so tall.” He rolled his eyes and giggled.
Mrs. Loughlin blew her whistle signaling the end of recess. The kids stampeded across the playground kicking up a humongous cloud of dirt which did wonders for my asthma. I saw Rogelio charging straight for me. This time I caught him – and caught him off-guard – and spun him around in a circle. All the while he giggled.
“I better stop swinging you around. You’re bound to puke all over my nice shoes.” I held his arms out so that he couldn’t plow into me.
“Can I eat witchu today, Mr. Ramsey?”
“Sure,” I said smiling. “See you at lunch.”
I continued my classroom walkthroughs and put lunch out of my mind. Already flooding into my head were numerous memories of Rogelio moments. I couldn’t help but smile as those images and their respective emotions yanked me back through the years…
I had just left my office for my afternoon classroom visits and had decided to begin with the kindergarten classes. Mrs. Bellamy was circulating through her classroom assisting children at each of the learning centers she had meticulously created the night before. Some students were putting magnetic letters in alphabetic order on old cookie sheets. Others were counting to one hundred using plastic blocks. Still others were listening to a recorded story, each child’s head engulfed in oversized headphones.
And then there was Rogelio.
The little five-year-old was sitting on the floor fiddling with his shoe. Sprawled out next to him were the pieces of the alphabet puzzle he was supposed to be constructing. I left the listening center and headed his way.
Rogelio looked up and yelled across the classroom, “Hey! Mr. Ramsey! Can you help tie my shoes?”
“Sure thing,” I gallantly responded. I sat down next to him on the carpet and examined the tiny sneakers. Their laces must have had at least 100 knots each!
“Why don’t you work on that puzzle while I take a crack at this?” I asked. I turned my attention to the first sweaty little puzzle before me.
After about ten minutes of struggling, I smacked my forehead and muttered, “Rogelio! How many knots do you have in this thing?” He giggled and wiggled about making my job even harder. Mrs. Bellamy rolled her eyes and continued monitoring the work of her other young charges.
Ten more minutes passed, and I had yet to complete my assignment. I was in good company – neither had Rogelio. Finally, I gave him the best advice any man could give: Ask your mother to help you! I added, “I’ve wasted enough of your time, kid. Let’s see you get this alphabet puzzle put together!” He grinned and rolled his eyes. Mrs. Bellamy did the same. “Have a nice afternoon, Mr. Ramsey,” she sang as I headed to the next classroom.
During his year in first grade, Rogelio seemed to have problems following his teacher’s rules and was sent often for “redirection” from me. I began checking his behavior card at the end of each day and asking him how his day had gone. He never tried to hide anything from me. If he had a bad day, he told me about it. “Okay, then,” I would reply, “You know what to do to make things better. I want to see a better report tomorrow. Okay?”
“Okay!” he would chirp and then he was off, skipping down the sidewalk toward the waiting school bus.
One afternoon, Rogelio was in rare form and was sent to me with pleas to keep him for the last hour of the day. I took him outside to one of the picnic tables and told him that I was disappointed with his behavior and that I was calling his mother. “You can’t,” he argued, “she’s in Alaska.”
“Alaska? Wow. That’s pretty far away.”
“Yeah. She’s going to be there a long time. You won’t be able to call her.”
“Ah,” I replied. “Not a problem. “I have free long distance service!”
“Um, well, she might still be here in town, packing – you know, getting ready for the trip.”
Mother picked up on the first ring and assured me she was still very much in Arizona and that she would be dealing with her son that evening. After hanging up, I proceeded to give the little boy a proper lecture. He listened for a few minutes and then interrupted me midsentence.
“My dad ruined my whole life, Mr. Ramsey.”
I stopped talking and stared at him. “What do you mean, Rogelio?”
“My dad is in jail, Mr. Ramsey. He ruined my whole life.”
“Oh,” I whispered with a heavy sigh, suddenly rendered speechless by a six-year-old. “Well,” I sputtered, as I desperately tried to find words that could make this little boy feel better. “Well,” I began again, “I bet he has your picture right next to his bed. He probably looks at it every night to remind himself of what a great kid he has.”
Rogelio turned and stared at me with a look of disbelief, wondering, I am sure, how I could be an assistant principal and still be so clueless.
“What?” I asked, throwing my hands up in the air.
“Have you ever seen the inside of a jail, Mr. Ramsey?” he asked incredulously. “My dad does not have my picture next to his bed!”
I had no comeback line, and I had totally forgotten where I was in my lecture. “Well, all I know,” I stuttered, “is he is lucky to have you, little boy. I bet he loves you very much.” We were both quiet after that. He accompanied me for the last portion of my afternoon rounds. Then I walked him to the bus and sent him on his way.
There were more check-ins with Rogelio as he moved through first grade and then second as well. Often, a ten minute hike around campus was all he needed to get control of his behavior and to get what was bothering him out into the open.
I introduced him to everyone along the way during each of these jaunts. He was always amazed when they greeted him by name. “How do all these people know me, Mr. Ramsey?” he exclaimed one day.
“I talk,” I deadpanned. “I tell them exactly what they can expect when they get you in their classes!” He rolled his eyes and grinned.
“Hey!” he squealed one afternoon. “How come I always get the strict teacher each year?”
“Who do you think picks your classes, kid?” I responded. He looked up at me with his mouth open – speechless. Probably the only time I ever saw him that way!
On another occasion, Rogelio and I were travelling along the main sidewalk that encircles the inside of the campus. I was instructing him on the skills he needed to master for not disrupting the learning of his classmates. He cut me off and changed the direction of the conversation completely.
“Could you adock me, Mr. Ramsey?
“Could you adock me?”
“Do you mean adopt, Rogelio?” I slowly replied searching my mind for an appropriate response.
“Whatever,” he mumbled.
“Well,” I began finally piecing a few words together, all the while attempting to preserve my image as an all-knowing administrator. “Well…you’re a great kid…but I think your mom would be really sad…I know she really loves you a lot…besides, all I have in my house are girl clothes…my daughter needs those…and I don’t really think you would look good in those things!”
“I could bring my own clothes!” he offered.
“I’m sorry, kid. I get to watch over you all day here at school. Your mom gets you for the rest of the time. Like I told you, she would really miss you.”
“Whatever,” he sighed, a little deflated. “Can we keep walking for a few more minutes?”
“Sure,” I answered. He reached his little hand out and took hold of mine. We began another lap around the courtyard…silently…
Ninety minutes and ninety memories later, I was summoned to the office by the secretary who knew my cell number by heart. “Did you tell Rogelio he could eat with you, Mr. Ramsey?” she asked with a trace of skepticism. She knew the boy well and had processed many of the discipline reports containing his name over the past few years.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I forgot. On my way,” I stuttered, and then quickly added, “He’s not in trouble!”
“O-kay…” she replied before disconnecting. I hurried to get my tray of beef-a-roni and peas and carrots and then headed to my office. Rogelio sat in his usual chair and giggled.
“Don’t forget your job,” I reminded as I took my chair behind the desk. The little boy got up and walked to my credenza where a large hour glass sat. He flipped it over so that the sand could begin trickling to the bottom.
“Does it really take an hour?” he asked for the forty-seventh time.
“Yes. And don’t get any ideas about staying here to see all of the sand run through, kid. Lunch is only twenty minutes long and then you are out the door to recess.”
We sat and talked or, I should say, he talked and I listened. I noticed that when he shared lunch time with me he was calmer, older in a way – more serious.
“Eat your peas. They’re good for you,” I told him with little credibility.
“You eat yours,” he blurted back with a grin.
“Uh, no,” I replied. “Can’t stand them.” He giggled, scraped the last of the pasta from his plate and threw the nasty green pebbles into the trash can.
“Can I watch the sand until it goes all the way down,” he pushed.
“Rogelio…” I warned.
“Okay. But, someday?”
“Sure, I’ll think about it. Now get out to the playground.”
He looked at me and grinned. Then he charged at me and gave me a tight hug. I hugged him back.
“Rogelio, you are a great kid. You must get lots of hugs. How many hugs do you get every day?” I guided him toward the door.
He turned around slowly. He looked up at me and thought hard about my question. Finally, he quietly responded, “It depends on how many times I see you.” He skipped out of my office, past the secretary and on toward the playground.
I went back to my desk, my heart perplexed – warmed indeed yet laden now with a sharp twinge of emotion I could not fully understand.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2013.