Two retired educators are returning to classrooms to encourage kids to find a balance between technology and relationships.
Stan Olson, the former superintendent of the Boise School District, and his childhood classmate Linda Jarkey are concerned that American adults and children spend too much time on their phones and tablets.
After seven years of retirement, Olson spent last year as the interim superintendent of the Coeur d’Alene School District while trustees hunted for a permanent leader. Olson, now back in Boise, said the most glaring difference after those retirement years was the way students and teachers interact with technology and each other.
“It was shocking,” Olson said of what he terms “screen-agers.”
“We’re losing the art of communication with each other because of an over-reliance or maybe an addiction with technology.”
Olson, his wife Connie and Jarkey grew up together in Michigan. While the Olson’s moved West, Jarkey stayed and eventually retired from a principal position in the Utica Community Schools in Michigan, a district similar in size to the Boise district. They’ve all stayed in touch throughout the years, though Jarkey has visited more than 75 countries and circled the globe on the Silk Road.
But last year she carved out time to write her first book, inspired by an uncomfortable scene in a restaurant. She watched a toddler crawl on the floor and try to wiggle into the laps of his parents, who ignored him because they were preoccupied with their phones.
Jarkey’s first book — “Sadie Sees Trouble” — is the story of Sadie, a big yellow dog who is neglected by Penny, who got a tablet for her birthday. Penny chooses to play with apps instead of toys and Sadie feels bad and lonely.
I sit by her on the sofa. I sit by her on the chair. But her eyes and hands are on the tablet — it’s like she’s not really there.
“Sadie resonates with kids,” Jarkey said. “I can see their sad faces as they think about their own dogs.”
Jarkey visited Boise in January and Olson organized a mini book tour where she read aloud to a handful of area classrooms. They emphasized to the children the importance of finding balance between technology and other healthy living habits and relationships.
The book ends with Penny and Sadie playing in the yard as sunlight warmed their faces.
A while after supper the family went to bed. Penny read me a story as she gently stroked my head.
“Parents don’t put down devices either, which is why we have the little dog,” Jarkey said.
Jarkey’s sister, Julie Jarkey-Kozlowski, used natural colors to illustrate the book. Sadie’s yellow coat is from mustard. The book’s reds are from strawberries and beets and the browns from coffee and tea. Coloring pages of the book are available to download.
Jarkey’s book was published this month and she’s distributed about 300. It’s available through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Google books and Apple books.
“I feel very grateful people are responding to this important issue,” Jarkey said. “I want to make people aware.”
“I’m sorry I neglected you,” my Penny said to me. I went to sleep in her arms that night, happy as a dog could be.