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Posted: April 25, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Tell me about school

The old man had not had a good day. He set out after breakfast to accomplish the fairly simple task of mowing his modest yard for the first time in 2010. But after cleaning away winter storage grime, installing a new spark plug and pouring in fresh gas and oil, he became frustrated when on the first pull the lawn mower's starter cord broke. Standing there, holding the rubber T-handle, he watched the bulk of the cord ratchet away into the mower's motor housing.

Two trips to the hardware store failed to bear fruit before the stubborn old guy caved in and paid a small motor repair shop to replace the starter cord. And it had not helped his disposition any when the expert accomplished the task in less than 10 minutes.

But the yard had, at last, been cut. Wearily, the old man sank heavily into his favorite chair to enjoy a cool beverage. Just then, the front door flew open and his granddaughter bounded across the room on invisible coiled springs of energy, right up into his lap.

"Grandpa, Grandpa!" she chirped. "I thought we'd never get here today! How are you?"

"Well, Sweetpea, I'm fine now that you're here!" the old man replied. "How's my precious granddaughter doing today? Did you have a good day at school?"

The little girl's face fell, and she relaxed her tight hug around his neck. Sitting back, she lowered her voice.

"Grandpa, some of my friend's parents are so angry, and I just don't understand. They're all upset that somebody is taking our teachers away next year. And one of my best friends was crying because her older sister, the one in middle school, won't be a cheerleader any more."

The little girl leaned forward and propped her elbows on her granddaddy's belly, cradling her face in her hands as she looked right into his eyes.

"What's going on, Grandpa?" she asked. "Why is everybody so upset? Is everything going to be OK?"

The old man considered his grandchild for a moment, took a swig of his favorite beverage, swirled it as he looked out the window in deep thought, then turned back to the child's earnest gaze.

"Sweetpea," he began, "back when I was a little boy in school, I carried my lunch in a bucket..."

"Walking 12 miles to school, uphill both ways!" she interrupted with that innocent little laughter produced only by children.

The old man soaked up every sound like a sponge, relishing the moment he knew would so very soon vanish, so swiftly as to make him wonder if it had ever really happened. She would soon stop giggling.

"Sweetpea," he resumed, "there's an old saying I remember from my football days which says: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And what that means is that when everything is going well, anyone can play the game. But when things get tough, it takes a tough person to rise up and meet the challenge. And that, honey, is the situation facing our schools today."

"Grandpa, I'm not exactly sure what you mean," said Sweetpea. "Can you please explain it to me a little better?"

"Well, I'll try," he said. "Basically, honey, our schools have been insulated from the effects of the up's and down's of our economy for a long time. Property owners, like your Grandpa, pay lots of taxes in order for our local Board of Education to make decisions about how to spend that money. In the past, they've been able to offer lots of programs in our schools. But now, there's not enough money to go around. So the board members - good people that we all know and respect and voted to represent us - are having to make tough choices."

The little girl had a puzzled look on her face, but then her eyes widened and she sat up straight.

"So they have to decide between keeping our teachers or playing middle school sports, like football and cheerleading?" she asked.

"That's exactly right, Sweetpea," the old man replied. "The members of the Board of Education have worked very, very hard to come up with a plan that benefits the most people while hurting the very least number of people. The plan they've presented is a sound one, given what they have to work with in these tough times."

"So, Grandpa, will everything be OK?" Sweetpea asked furtively.

"Yes, Sweetpea," he said, "everything will work out fine. The board members are doing what the people elected them to do: to lead in tough times. What they need from us now is our support."

"Just as I turned to an expert for help with my lawn mower this morning, we all need to support our local Board of Education members as they deal with very difficult times."

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.


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