I was sitting in my classroom the other day, with a week and a half still to unwind before the short people start to fill the seats and the halls outside. I was thinking about Ned. Ned won't be coming back to our school this year. He was a fifth grader and got promoted along with the rest of his classmates.
Well, actually, that's not completely true. Ned will be going to middle school this year. Somewhere. I don't know exactly where because he didn't show up for the promotion exercises on the penultimate day of school. This was strange to me because Ned was invariably one of the first kids to show up on any given day. He was there before I put the PE equipment out on the yard. He was invariably the kid who would take a variety of different balls from the rack and punt them across the playground. After I had gone back inside.
Ned was discreet, in this way. It didn't mean that the other kids wouldn't rat him out the minute I returned to the playground, but at least he had the decency to wait until I wasn't staring directly at him. That meant that I had a great many chances to discuss with Ned the safe, respectful and responsible use of playground equipment. So much so that he accepted my challenge to become one of our school's young heroes. It was his job, along with five or six other kids in red T-shirts to keep the games and jump ropes and assorted balls in play and not launched onto the roof or into the bushes up the hill. It also meant he was expected to be a role model for the other kids.
That was the tough part for Ned. He wasn't difficult or mean in any typical sense. He was someone I could slow down or stop with a teacher-voice holler from across the yard. But that didn't keep him out of mischief. Which is what eventually lost him his job as a young hero.
Ned was part of the after school program I ran for fifth graders, building community through leadership skills and cooperation. He shined. He came up with our group's first semester project slogan: More Friends, Less Bullies. He came to every meeting, and when no one else had any ideas, Ned came up with something to get the discussion started. He saved me from being the droning adult voice in the classroom.
Why didn't he come to promotion?
He practiced along with his classmates. He walked in and out of the auditorium countless times. He listened to all the speeches. He sat in his seat. Until the day came that it counted.
Ned wasn't there.
I didn't get a chance to say it: Goodbye, Ned.