Flag Pole Guys

Today was another oppressive day of rain in Atlanta. I had some errands to run, and some dry cleaning and donations to drop off, so I piled up the car with all my errands and headed to grab Jackson. Jackson is released a little earlier than the other kids because he’s a “walker,” meaning we walk home most days, though as of late I can’t recall the last time we were able to walk home a full week. It’s a nice treat to get my kid before the chaos of carline, which we were used to at previous schools. On days when the weather is bad, I park in the school lot and walk up to the “walker” door to grab him. I’m usually the last parent there, because he’s usually the last kid to leave. He makes sure all the others get safely to their parents before he departs. Part of his “Safety Patrol” pledge.

Today I parked close to the school because of the rain. I decided to sneak up in front of the school so I could stay under the school’s awning for as long as I could before I headed to the walker door. As I hopped up onto the dry sidewalk in front of the school I noticed three young boys standing around the flag pole at the entrance, and recognized Jackson immediately. His favorite Under Armor coat on over a hoodie whose hood was shielding his head from the rain, and his black Nike glasses being pelted with the big, round droplets. I was surprised because he doesn’t have “Flag Duty” right now, so I was just about to call over to him and ask what he was doing when I noticed they were having some trouble.

There are two flags on the pole at Jackson’s school. On top is the US Flag, which is customary to have at all public schools, and just under that one flies a smaller white flag recognizing Jackson’s school as being part of the International Baccalaureate program (they are also a STEM Certified school from AvancED). An IB school, according to an article at Great Schools, was created in Switzerland in 1968 for students in international schools. Great Schools says that IB is now offered in 5,175 schools across 157 countries — with about 1,800 public and private schools in the U.S. IB has gained popularity for setting high standards and emphasizing creative and critical thinking. IB students are responsible for their own learning, choosing topics and devising their own projects, while teachers act more as supervisors or mentors than sources of facts. IB emphasizes research and encourages students to learn from their peers, with students actively critiquing one another’s work. Beyond preparing students for critical thinking and college-level work, the full IB program calls for students to express themselves through writing, requires community service, and aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

Essentially these kids are learning to set themselves, and each other, up for success at problem solving, among of a myriad of other important lessons about life, culture, and critical thinking. The problem solving though, is a big topic for fifth graders. Problem solving on the fly, as well as researching and planning solutions to larger, global problems like world hunger, city infrastructure, and urban decay. I tell you all this so you understand what I saw yesterday in the rain. Two boys attempting to take down two soaking wet, tangled flags, relying on each other and their ability to problem solve, work through creative solutions, and recognizing when it was time to ask for help.

It wasn’t raining that morning, they would come to understand, when the morning safety patrol put the flags up. But it had started raining right after, which means it rained steadily on the flags all day. As the day waned on, the IB flag tangled itself into a knot at the clip that attaches to the cable that hoists the flags up and down. Which means, try as they might, they were only able to bring the flags halfway down, then they would stop.

One glance up at the flags told me that they were tangled, but I couldn’t see how from my vantage point. Later, I learned that within a few minutes of discovering a problem, one of the boys had bowed out, opting instead to stand under the awning in the rain and yell possible solutions to his friend. That’s when Jackson happened by the front door, was spotted, and his friend called to him. Essentially his buddy needed a little help and knew just who to ask. Great start to the problem-solving, knowing who can help.

As the rain beat down on Jackson and his friend, they tried, and tried, and tried to get the flag down. They shook the metal cable that hoisted the flags up and down, the tried to move the white flag around the flag pole to see if they could stand in a different spot to get it off, that’s when they saw the tangle and realized what had happened. All the while I silently watched under the dry awning, as did the Assistant Principal, who was between shuffling kids back and forth from the door and the line of busses. Neither her nor I ever stepped in to offer advice or assistance. Why would we? They didn’t ask, and they are fifth graders. IB model tells us both not to help quite yet. So instead we stand, me under the awning and her under an umbrella nearer to them, and we watch.

Several minutes go by. They have been able to get the flags down to their lowest point now by shaking the cables, which have dislodged a portion of the knot on the white flag. They hoist the two flags back up again, then quickly back down, assuming at this point that they have solved the problem. The get them almost within reach (so they can just unclip the flag) when boom! The cable is caught again.

The boys are apoplectic. Jackson slams his hands down to his sides, and his friend in a show of frustration throws his hands up in the air. They look at each other, then back toward the draining sky. They are cold, they are wet, they are out of ideas. That’s when they make eye contact with the Assistant Principal. She saunters over with her umbrella, pretending to have no idea what is happening. She says, “What’s up, guys?”

Jackson’s friend tells her that the white flag is tangled. Jackson adds, quickly, the various measures they have tried in solving the problem. She says something like, “That should have done it. Do you want me to try?” They shake their heads in tired agreement. She sticks the handle of her umbrella in the space between her chin and shoulder and goes to work on the cable, essentially doing the same thing the boys were doing, but with a mighty strength that only a Principal possesses. Her umbrella falls behind her. She ignores it, keeps going. Now she’s getting pelted in the face by the rain, and I think for a minute to run over and help, then I notice Jackson run behind her, grab her umbrella, and hold it over her head while she looks straight up to the sky.

Eventually she gets the flag untangled with her pure might, gives Jackson’s friend the cable, and we all watch as he lowers the flag. Jackson hands her back her umbrella and they say thank you. She smiles, and walks back to the busses.

I stand, sort of in awe of what I have just witnessed. The third boy is nowhere to be found, he’s abandoned his post years ago, and Jackson and his friend stand in the rain and fold each flag the correct way, then take them back inside.

Minutes later, as we are walking out to the car I ask him what happened. He relays the story about the friend who needed help with the flag, how the other boy chased him down in the hallway to help. Then he tells me about the knot. That’s when I say that I saw them eventually figure it out. He stops me and says, “No, it was Ms. Young who figured it out.”

“No,” I assure him, “it was you two who figured it out. Ms. Young just had the strength to do what needed done.” He smiled a little.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

M.

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