Sopris kids coauthor a shaggy principal story
It’s the last day of class for the second graders in Anika Neal’s class at Sopris Elementary School. Tiny chairs are neatly lined into rows facing the front of the room. The equally small students fill the seats, buzzing, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their favorite guest.
He enters from the back.
“Dr. S!” the students scream as they scramble out of their seats.
They rush back to greet him in the only fitting way a group of 8-year-olds can, swarming around him for a group hug.
Neal directs the students back to their seats as Lindel Silvertooth — Dr. S as the class calls him — sits down in front of them. He has a stack of children’s books on the ground next to him and his reading glasses are resting on the top of his bald head.
For the past four years, Silvertooth has been coming regularly to Neal’s class to read storybooks to the children.
This visit — and one of the books — would be very special.
Silvertooth, 81, is a retired educator. He was principal at two different inner city elementary schools in Wichita and Derby, Kansas.
Now he is a Lions Club member and, in addition to his reading at Sopris Elementary, he is among a group of Lions who mentor students at Glenwood Springs Elementary School who have been identified as having academic or behavioral difficulty.
“I’m very proud of the 10 Lions,” Silvertooth said. “We work one-on-one with the students and try to have a positive impact on them.”
This year at Sopris, instead of just listening to stories, Neal and her class decided to undertake a special project with the help of Dr. S.
Silvertooth often wraps lessons into stories from his own life. One story that the children particularly loved involved his experimentation with hairpieces as a young principal.
“I wore a hairpiece for a year or so when I was a principal at Ingalls Elementary in Wichita,” Silvertooth explained.
“The kids loved the story and never let it go,” Neal said. “So Dr. S said, ‘I think we should write a book about it.’”
Thus the idea was born, and the class ran with it.
“Dr. S wrote almost all of it,” Neal said. “I only added a few words here and there. The kids did all of the illustrations to go along with it.”
On this last day of classes, Silvertooth returned for his final and most meaningful book reading of the year. He held up the spiral-bound, laminated copy of their book, “The Principal Had Hair,” and read it to the class for the first time.
“I’m the author, and so is Mrs. Neal and so are you,” Silvertooth told the students. “All of you are now authors.”
As he flipped through the pages, he pointed out each illustration and asked who drew it. The children shyly raised their hands when it was their turn. Silvertooth pointed out his favorite part of each and told them how great their drawings were. The students giggled at the illustrations.
When he had finished reading, Silvertooth passed on his final words of wisdom to Mrs. Neal’s second-grade class, “Pay attention to your teacher. Try your best. Like other people and like yourself.”
Knowing this was the last time Dr. S would speak to their class, several boys in the second row asked Mrs. Neal if they could be held back.
Their request was not granted.
One student led the class in a collective “big clap” and Dr. S said goodbye.
Afterward, Neal raved about the impact Silvertooth had on her students.
“I’m always open to finding people who can help out my students,” Neal said. “I know Dr. S has had a positive impact on these kids, whether I’ll get to see it or not.”
Silvertooth’s impact is probably best described by one of the students he touched, second grader Ryland Witt.
“Dr. S is a really amazing man,” Ryland said. “He loves reading stories and kids. I love it when he reads us stories.”
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Tucked into an overgrowth of sage south of Sopris Elementary School along Airport Road, two dilapidated, concrete walls raise new questions about the Cardiff town site.