A Trip to Brevard

By Morgan Sprinkle | Brevard, NC

As an assistant teacher at Mountain Sun Community School, I have a very special job. I get to work in a multi-age classroom of three, four, five and six-year-olds—we call ourselves “the Otters.” My co-teacher Annie is spunky, fun, creative, optimistic, and enviously outgoing. Our classroom is our happy place, and the children who give that classroom life and energy help us remember how lucky we are to have a part in shaping their lives.

Our school believes in fostering a sense of belonging in our students. We know that students who feel valued, included and appreciated feel better, and students who feel better are happier, more fulfilled and open to collaboration and conflict resolution.

Annie and I decided that this week was the perfect time to widen our circle and show our Otters that they belong not only at our school, but in our larger community as well. Brevard is a very special place, populated by wonderful people, and we wanted to introduce our students to their neighbors.

We (along with a number of wonderful parents) took our crew of 20 enthusiastic Otters through the streets of downtown Brevard on Thursday. Our goal was to show them that they are part of a community of talented, welcoming people. We practice “grace and courtesy” in our classroom, and this was our opportunity to use those same skills in the real world. We were cautiously optimistic.

Our first stop was the Blue Ridge Bakery where we kicked off our tour of the neighborhood with a little music from John and Bill of the Blue Ridge Bakery Boys, who played “Won’t you be my neighbor?” while we all sang. It was off-key, lilted and heartfelt.

The bakery’s owner Katina then invited all of our students to decorate their own cupcakes. There was much talk and busy hands as each child got down to the serious task of creating the most beautiful, sprinkled, frosted-to-perfection creation that they could call their own. The other bakery guests remarked at their concentration!

After a thunderous “thank you!” we went along our way, in search of another neighbor to meet.

We walked past a barber shop where Annie remarked, “Let’s see what they’re up to!” One quick introduction later, we led our crew of 20 curious kiddos into the barber shop where they were invited to sit on benches, ask questions and dream about one day getting a haircut from Ricky or Randy. This wasn’t planned. We didn’t have any intention of bombarding these two kind-hearted men with a gaggle of kiddos. But it speaks to the kindness and generosity of our neighbors that we were welcomed in and invited to sit awhile. Annie and I live with this kind of impromptu agenda (you have to, when your students throw you curveballs better than Clayton Kershaw) but the grace shown by our hosts didn’t go unnoticed.

We headed just down the road to the home of White Squirrel Radio where our host Don told us about the unique radio station, owned by local business people. We filed into a back room with an enormous switchboard, computers and enough fancy-looking buttons that my heart started to race. But our Otters kept their paws to themselves. We recorded a quick message about our school (did you catch our chorus of “We’re from Mountain Sun Community School!”?) and all our children promised Don they’ll wave at him through the glass whenever they see him. Don has no idea what he signed himself up for. He’ll be returning the waves of eager kiddos for the next decade.

From the radio station we walked past Ace Hardware where—again, unplanned—Annie made friends with Chris, one of the employees. He came out to speak to our kiddos and we learned about his favorite tool (the chainsaw!) and how the hardware store is a great place to go for helpful people who like to assist you with your projects. Our Otters have another helpful neighbor. Lucky little critters.

Our final stop was the fire station where Captain Adam showed our class the gear firemen wear and how it protects them so that they can help during an emergency. I appreciated how he made the children comfortable, despite the mask over his face and the sound of the oxygen tank. He explained that sometimes children hide during a fire because the firefighters can look scary, but having a chance to see him without his mask first and ask questions helped our students feel more comfortable.

Here’s my take-away from the day: Annie and I set out with a plan to meet a couple of local business owners, let our children decorate a cupcake and sing a song. We were met, without exception, by generous people who invited us in, fed us, listened to us, answered our questions, shared their energy and expertise, encouraged our children, and made us feel like part of their community. We felt like we belonged.

What lucky Otters we are to have such welcoming neighbors.

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