NORWOOD, Ohio -- "My mom told me years ago, 'You're brought into the world for two reasons,'" Williams Avenue Elementary principal Mark Gabbard said Tuesday. "One, to do great things; and two, to build relationships."
"Gabby," as some people call him, builds those relationships by waiting outside his school every morning and greeting every student with a high-five as they walk up its front steps.
It's a way to demystify the image of a principal for students as well and allow them to interact with an adult who treats them like a person rather than a baby.
"Too many times, you have situations where adults talk down to kids," he said. "A lot of times, they need somebody to be on their level and understand that they're there for them, not against them."
It also helps everyone in the Williams Avenue Elementary family feel good about the day ahead, he added.
"If they're having fun, they feel safe and they're welcome, learning just takes off," he said.
As if this weren't enough, Gabbard has a team of "cheerleaders" -- really parents -- who meet once a quarter to chalk encouraging messages on the walk up to the school's entrance.
"I love him," 9-year-old Lisa Stanton said. "I feel really safe because I know that nobody is going to come into the school because he recognizes everyone's face and gives us a high-five."
From that morning greeting to dismissal, when he waits outside again and helps students cross the street safely, Gabbard is dedicated to taking care of the children who attend his school.
"If I'm not out there, I feel like I'm missing something," he said.