For the students in Eric Bobbitt’s fourth-grade class at J.J. Jones Intermediate School, the life of Snappy Lunch owner Charles Dowell is less about a man who flipped pork chops and more about a lesson in how to live.
Dowell died Tuesday at the age of 84, and by Wednesday Bobbitt had his students involved in a project to learn more about his contribution to Mount Airy.
“We decided as a class to do a community connection about (Dowell) for our social studies class,” he said.
And what resulted was not just an exercise in social studies, math and computer literacy, it was much more.
“The kids have spent two days researching Dowell through newspapers, the Internet and secondary sources like family and people around the community,” Bobbitt said.
“We did this as a way for the kids to invest in the community,” he added. “We want these fourth-graders to know and take ownership of the community they live in. We also want the community to know that our children want to be invested in their community, so we talked a lot about (Dowell’s) contribution to the town of Mount Airy.
“People like Charles Dowell have built this town.”
And Bobbitt placed few restrictions on the project.
“When I gave them this project, I didn’t put a lot of parameters on the kids,” he said. “They were allowed to express the information as they see fit.”
From posters about Snappy Lunch and Dowell to complex computer presentations featuring embedded hyperlinks, the students didn’t disappoint.
Asked questions about Dowell before the presentations of their project, the students were excited and hands went up.
“What did you learn about him?” Bobbitt asked.
“He was a great community leader.”
“He brought people from all over the world to Mount Airy.”
“He was more than a restaurant owner. He was a role model.”
And when Bryson Coleman brought out an autographed copy of Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook on loan from his family, the fourth-graders couldn’t wait to touch a page signed by Dowell.
“What surprised me was the engagement and creativity these students demonstrated,” Bobbitt said. “I feel like this was relateable to them. This is where they live and they took ownership of it.”
After a day of presentations, Bobbitt smiled, noting that in order to have a direction for the future, today’s children need a reference in the past.
“There is a lot to learn from this man,” he said. “That was the main object of this project — not for them to read about Dowell and Snappy Lunch and forget about it, but to learn what he did for them. He’s not just some old guy who flipped pork chop sandwiches in the window of a restaurant.
“It’s important to not forget, to remember,” Bobbitt added. “Stories like this are lost and forgotten if they’re not taught and re-taught to our community. I think sometimes people in the community may think children are disconnected, but I wanted to show that these kids care about the city of Mount Airy.”
It is a lesson his students took to heart.
As they closed their PowerPoint presentation, the last shot on the screen of Adam Cutler and Autumn Martin’s presentation featured three photos of Dowell smiling.
The headline read: “Our buddy Charles Dowell. This is good-bye.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.