COLUMBIA, Mo. — “Do you have any more silly sheep stories?”
Sam Garrett frequently fields the question from her third-graders at Fairview Elementary School.
“I actually make a list of stories and cross them off if I tell them that one so I don’t forget,” Garrett said.
Then there’s Kalabar, a 3-½-year-old Hampshire Suffolk wether who makes a springtime visit each year to Fairview. Kalabar also appears often in lessons about math, English, reading and other aspects of Garrett’s curriculum.
A graduate of Rock Bridge High School and MU, Garrett is in her third year at Fairview. Last spring, she was named elementary educator of the year by the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association.
“Sam always tries to engage (students) using different props or dressing up or looking for different ways to keep them involved,” said Christy Muchow, who also teaches third grade at Fairview. “(She) tries to make learning fun — all the time she’s striving for that.”
The Columbia Missourian reports that at 24, Garrett is still closely connected to many years raising and showing sheep through 4-H Club and the National FFA Organization. She was 8 when she started and 21 when she aged out of competition.
As a teacher, she’s found that the children love hearing about the sheep.
“I know it’s something that interests them because it’s something new to them, and (I) use that to engage them,” Garrett said. “So I try to kinda fuse the different aspects of my life together.”
There’s never been a time when sheep weren’t a part of Garrett’s world.
She still lives with her parents on a 160-acre farm south of Columbia where her mother, Janie Garrett, grew up and raised sheep for show. The farm still breeds 25 to 30 ewes per year and sells lambs to children who want to show at fairs through Garrett Club Lambs.
Sam’s father, Glenn Garrett, does most of the work of feeding and caring for the sheep. On a recent Thursday evening, he sat on the front porch of their house talking about the work ethic and discipline necessary to raise sheep. He said the lessons his son and daughter learned on the farm weren’t so much about sheep but about how to live.
“I’m really not raising sheep,” he said. “I’m raising kids.”
Sam Garrett remembers her brother, Will Garrett, showing two lambs as a 4-H project when she was 4. Four years later, it was her turn.
At MU, Sam Garrett ran for the cross country and track team from 2012 to 2016. She was also still showing sheep and, in 2014, set out to win the Earl Crane Memorial Trophy. It’s the grand champion trophy for sheep-showing at the Boone County Fair and is named for her grandfather, Earl Crane, who was the first to register the Suffolk breed of sheep in Boone County.
“I wrote it on my mirror in my room, and so every time I woke up, I was like, ‘Win the Boone County Fair — that is my goal,'” Garrett recalled.
That summer, she said, she woke up at 5 a.m. to help feed the sheep, ran 8 to 10 miles, then ran again in the evening before working with the sheep a second time. She won the Earl Crane trophy with a sheep named Lord Voldemort, whom she called Voldy.
“It was like the fairytale ending,” Garrett said. She started crying when they announced it, she said.
Last year, she told the story of winning the trophy to her students to kick off a writing unit. She re-enacted the drama at the fair by pretending to be the judge and assigning students the roles of contestants.
At the end, the judge announces the grand champion by shaking the contestant’s hand. Garrett said the entire class waited silently in anticipation then erupted with cheers and applause when she, as the judge, shook the hand of the student pretending to be her.
The point of the lesson on personal narrative: “Writers are storytellers,” Garrett said.
The year after winning the Crane trophy was Garrett’s last eligible year as a sheep shower. She won second place in 2015 with Kalabar, named after the villain in the 1998 movie “Halloweentown.”
Because the sheep are market animals — used primarily for meat rather than wool — the first- and second-place sheep must be sold after the fair. However, the man who bought Kalabar at the fair gave him back to Garrett. It took some doing, but she and her mother persuaded Glenn Garrett to let Kalabar stay on the farm.
Since then, Kalabar has been retired. He’s gained 60 pounds and spends his days in the pasture. He is less pampered now than he was during his peak, but he still allows Garrett to “set up” his back legs and be used as an example of what sheep showing would look like.
Glenn Garrett said one of his daughter’s main arguments for Kalabar was that she “can use him to teach kids stuff.”
She does just that. Although Kalabar only makes one physical appearance in the classroom — at the end of the school year — he’s frequently included in other ways.
Last year, she used him as a main character in a math lesson teaching area and perimeter; she told the students that Kalabar would escape from his pen if they didn’t make him a new one.
On a recent Friday, she taught a reading fluency lesson in which she focused on punctuation and quotation marks. One example: “‘Kalabar, don’t eat the chocolate cupcake!’ yelled Ms. Garrett.”
“I like them a lot,” 8-year-old student Lyla Robb said about Garrett’s sheep stories. “They’re really cute. I like animals.”
Third grade is the first year for Missouri Assessment Program testing, so Garrett makes what she calls a “box of goodies” for the students. One is a slip of paper announcing “a visit from Kalabar.”
“It’s a big deal for those kids,” Glenn Garrett said.
After sprucing up Kalabar, Glenn Garrett brings the sheep to school in a stock trailer, and students come outside to meet them. Kalabar is also a way to teach students more about agriculture, he said.
In addition to sheep, Sam Garrett is known for her whimsical, regular use of costumes. On Fridays, she is the “Fri-yay Fairy” — and that means wearing fairy wings.
“Every Friday she wears blue wings,” said 8-year-old Bebe Lookingbill, who is in Garrett’s class this year. “I think they’re really pretty. . I really like the sparkles on them.”
A couple of Fridays ago, an hour and a half into “Fri-yay,” Garrett welcomed her kids with a gold microphone, sang the class song, “We Are the Future” — complete with dancing, arm waving and jumping — taught a reading fluency class, told a sheep story and held an awards ceremony.
“Today is not just any other day,” Garrett said, pulling up a projector image of a stage with red theater curtains. “It’s the Fluency Oscars!”
Garrett has a closet in her classroom dedicated to costumes, hats and accessories that she wears daily to keep her students engaged.
“Everybody laughs,” Tyler Shults, 8, said about her costumes. “Really funny.”