Now that the school year has officially ended, so has my dream job of being a music teacher. One of the many reasons I loved my job so much was the team I was blessed to work with. The specials teachers at Southern Boone Primary School are some of the most wonderful human beings I have ever known. It was an absolute honor to be their coworker this year, and I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about each one of them.

Travis Naughton

Bree Lindsey teaches art at the primary school. When I first met Bree, it took me about ten seconds to realize that she’s my kind of person. She’s a truly gifted artist, but more importantly, she’s also one of the funniest people I know. I would tell you one of her stories, but I’m afraid none of them are fit to print in a family newspaper such as this. 

The best compliment I can give Bree is to say that she, more than anyone else I’ve met, reminds me of my late mother. Bree is a strong-willed woman who is also extremely thoughtful and generous. She’s whip-smart and possesses a dead-pan sense of humor that often has the specials team spitting out their drinks at lunch.  

I miss you already, Bree. And I love you.

Karri Amelunke and Kathleen Downey are the guidance counselors at the primary school. I’ve known Karri since my son Alex was a student at the school, circa 2007. When Alex came home from school one day and told me he was spending time with a teacher named Mrs. Ama Monkey, I was pretty sure he was pulling my leg. Thankfully, she was a real person who did a great deal to help my ADHD child channel his excess energy in a positive direction. 

Karri has helped me work through some personal issues over the years as well. She is a great listener, a calming presence, and a compassionate person. As a couple, Karri and her husband Jake are very similar to Bethany and me: Two tall, beautiful, extremely patient, and tolerant ex-volleyball players married to short, moody, car-obsessed, and impulsive men. In the wife department, Jake and I will gladly admit that we both out-kicked our coverage. 

Thanks for being such a great friend, Karri. I love you.

2019-2020 was Kathleen’s first year at Southern Boone, but she quickly established herself as a valued member of the specials team. Splitting her time between the primary and elementary schools was a challenge, but one she was able to handle with aplomb. The bonds she made with her students and her co-workers were strong, meaningful, and lasting.

Kathleen was great for my ego this school year. She frequently praised the work I was doing with my students, and she even dropped by the music room from time to time to get in on the fun. Also, she generously loaned me a bass guitar so I could play it for the kids. One kindergartner was not very impressed with my bass-playing skills, however. “Mr. Naughton, I can give it a try since you’re having such a hard time.” (And I thought I was doing pretty well!) 

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to get to know you this year, Kathleen. I love you, too.

Kim Taggart is the media specialist/librarian at the primary school. She has also taught second grade and fifth grade in the district. Kim has many gifts, but one that is especially remarkable is her ability to get kids to fall in love with reading. On any given day, if you were to walk into the library, you might see Mrs. Taggart wearing an Asian gown, a witch’s hat, or any number of other costumes that reflect the day’s subject matter. Kim truly makes learning fun.

The thing that stands out to me the most about her is the love she has for her students. It’s palpable. Kim sincerely cares about her friends and coworkers, too. She is one of those rare people who asks, “How are you?” and genuinely wants to hear your answer.

Well, I’m doing pretty good, Kim, knowing that I have friends like you who care about me. I love you.

Last, but certainly not least, is Crystal Branch. Coach Branch, as thousands of people know her, taught physical education here for 24 years before she hung up her whistle for good last Friday. When I was hired as a new teacher last summer, Crystal was assigned to be my mentor. So much for her plans for a care-free, final year of her career.

Crystal has been a mentor not only to me, but to other teachers including the specials team—and to many other people—over the years. When she wasn’t in the gym, she was usually outside coaching track and cross-country athletes, inspiring them to be the best they could be. And on those rare occasions when she didn’t have a sporting event or obligation of her own to attend, she would make a special effort to watch her current and former students’ games, meets, concerts, and 4-H events whenever possible. You won’t find another person in Southern Boone County who is more generous with their time than Crystal Branch.

I love you, Coach. Thank you for being you.

To the whole Specials Team, or “The Heifers” as you call yourselves, it has been the privilege of a lifetime to be accepted as one of the Herd. (Sorry, Crystal, but I still refuse to be called “The Steer”.) Thank you for everything, ladies. 

I love you all.