The Lunch Room

Lt. Col. John Samples
When we first joined the O’Neal Community, I was excited to see how my children would become exceptional students on their way to an elite college or university. I was impressed with the many AP course offerings. I liked that there was an opportunity to take SAT / ACT preparation courses. I really enjoyed the extracurricular opportunities in athletics, the arts and class trips around the world. This to me is what set O’Neal apart from what the public schools had to offer. This was what we were paying for. How shortsighted I was! It wasn’t until we went home to visit family that I witnessed the O’Neal difference. 

In under a year at O’Neal, our kids had transformed. We have many nieces and nephews that are right around my children’s ages. The difference between my children and their cousins was staggering. My children were far more mature, social, and conversant on topics other than ESPN or Snapchat. They were engaging with their grandparents, uncles and aunts. They were active participants in adult conversations. More importantly, they saw themselves adding value to conversations because they saw value in themselves. This is the O’Neal difference. Public schools offer AP courses, SAT/ACT preparation courses, and basketball teams. O’Neal offers those and expects students to participate in the life experience. O’Neal reveals the value inside each and every one of us (student, parent, faculty and staff). As it turns out, after O’Neal my son went on to attend an elite institution. But this once shortsighted father can now see that in addition to being highly educated, he is a leader, an example for all to follow, and an extraordinary person – he is O’Neal.

After the “Why O’Neal?” story I wrote was posted in the Falcon Flyer a couple of weeks ago, I had several parents reach out to me to tell me how much they appreciated the story about our Cross Country team. They preceded to tell me how they too love O’Neal. As it turns out, events like these happen on an everyday basis at O’Neal. We are so focused on looking for the grand that we miss the greatness right in front of us. It isn’t until we take a moment from our daily grind that we notice the extraordinary – the extraordinary that has been there right along. Take the opportunity sometime to set aside the noise to observe the nest. In this Falcon nest you will find what is good and right. And then you too can feel, and know, “Why O’Neal”?

A teacher recently contacted me to pass on a story about O’Neal. A new family had recently joined the O’Neal community. Their son was in the Lower School and was doing great. Their daughter was in the Middle School. She really enjoyed her classes. She was doing fine. The teacher went on to say that everything was as good as it could be, but the little girl was struggling with social issues. She was “unique”, the teacher described. Because she was socially different than most others in her classes, she usually stuck to herself in and out of class. As she was an intellectual standout in class, most of the other students were intimidated by her. For fear of being reminded that she was so much smarter than they were, most kids would keep their distance from her. This little girl learned to be by herself. She did not have girlfriends to play or talk with. In fact, unless she was called upon in class, she learned to not really talk at all.

The teacher went on to tell me about something she had witnessed in the O’Neal lunch room. The day was like every other. The lunch room was a buzz of kids being kids. There was the unmistakable concert of laughing, talking, and enjoyment of being on break from class. Right in front of the teacher, on a corner seat of one of the lunch room tables sat the noticeably alone little girl. Life had carved a barrier around her from the rest of the students. She stared at the table in front of her while she quietly ate her sandwich. And then the extraordinary happened. A fellow student got up from an adjacent table where she was in the center of the excitement. She left her friends and all of the social “norms” that we see today. She left all of that to go to the little girl’s table. As she sat down she said, “We don’t have to talk, but you shouldn’t have to sit alone.” The teacher said that she did not hear them speak but couldn’t take her eyes off the smile on the little girl’s face for the rest of the lunch period.

I asked the teacher if she knew the little girl’s parents as I would like to reach out to them as new members of the O’Neal community. She said, “Oh yes, the little girl is my daughter. We are a military family. We have traveled all over the world. It is has been so difficult for my daughter to adjust to any place we’ve lived. She has learned to not have any friends. She learned that life is a pretty cold place. What I witnessed as a teacher is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I can’t put into words as a parent what I felt when I saw that. She gave my daughter something I haven’t been able to give to her for years – a smile. The world would be a better place if there was more O’Neal in it.”

That is “Why O’Neal?”

Parents, Past Parents, Teachers, Students, and Alumni are encouraged to send us your stories of why O'Neal has made a difference for you or your family. Email your story to: Director of Communications Kathy Taylor.
The O'Neal School admits students of any race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other basis protected by law to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other basis protected by law in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.