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Your Schools: Recent events summed up in a song

The lyrics from Disney's "It's a Small World" keep repeating in my mind lately.

"It's a world of laughter, a world of tears

It's a world of hopes, it's a world of fear

There's so much that we share, that it's time we're aware

It's a small world after all."

Many years ago when our children were young, we saved up our pennies and took a trip to Disney World. One of our favorite rides was "It's a Small World," and even today 20 years later, I can still picture the ride Disney took us on into a small children's world, with the song escorting us on our ride.

"There is just one moon and one golden sun

And a smile means friendship to everyone.

Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide

It's a small, small world."

I'm not sure why the song is choosing to pop into my consciousness now. Perhaps it's because my wife and I have just welcomed into the world our fourth grandchild, a beautiful baby girl named Julia Grace, and we've spent a fair amount of time with Julia's family in Chicago.

My wife, especially, would testify to the fact that theirs is a small, small world, having babysat for several weeks for Julia's sister, Ava Elizabeth, three-years-old, and brother, Liam Joseph 20-months-old.

Or perhaps the song is ringing in my ears because last week I attended my first Grandparents' Day breakfast at granddaughter Ciera Marie's preschool.

Small chairs, small toilets, small on-the-floor activities, and very small young people were all the order of the day and I loved every minute of it.

I know for sure that I thought about "It's a Small World" while doing a "super switch" with multi-age teacher Caroline Henk recently at Rocky Branch.

My day spent with her kindergarten/first grade children involved tying shoes, zipping and unzipping zippers, listening to children read from their primers, wiping up spilled milk and snack crumbs, supervising playground time, teaching her children how to measure with a tape measure, and just listening to children tell me about the important events and people in their lives, all of which reminded me to celebrate and enjoy the small and less hectic world of 5- and 6-year olds more often.

On a larger scale, the realities of the small world landed on my desk last week relating to the "fiscal cliff."

When I was given information on the possibility of having federal funds sequestered if agreement in the Senate and House can't be reached, I realized that the political world of Washington D.C. was about to have a direct impact on programs for students and staff in River Falls.

Another memo circulated in central office by the Director of Finance reminded those employees involved with producing payroll and calculating payroll taxes needed to be prepared to give up part of their Christmas break in order to input late information on payroll tax changes from the Federal government in time for our first January payday. The small (and slow) world in Washington touches us very personally each and every day.

However, I think the lyrics of "It's a Small World" became locked in my brain after an exciting day last week of touring six Chinese visitors through some of our schools.

Larry Solberg, Dean of the College of Education at UWRF, had arranged for these Chinese college professors and administrators to see our public K-12 schools with the possibility that their university would start sending students to UWRF for a year of training to learn how to be teachers.

If that happens, the School District of River Falls might well be the recipient of some of these Chinese students to work with our students and faculty during their year of residency at UWRF.

On that tour, one of the stops we made was at the River Falls High School "Cat Shop" -- the student-run store that sells shirts, school supplies, and food items.

At the cash register, student Alex Haskins waited on the Chinese visitors and proceeded to tell them, via interpreter, that his dad, Kevin Haskins, at that very moment was in China working on a flight reservation system with Chinese Air. Talk about small world!

The connections to another country half-way around the world lead to a River Falls student interacting in a meaningful way with Chinese educators and perhaps learning even more about the culture surrounding his dad's work with a Chinese company.

It's a small world after all

It's a small world after all

It's a small, small world."

Just as I'm about to send this off to The Journal for the Monday morning deadline, the terrible news about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. is breaking across our televisions, smart phones, and internet.

I am horrified, sickened, and deeply saddened by the senseless killing of students and staff, and no words can be found to take away the anger, fear, or sense of helplessness found in this world where innocent life is so easily discarded.

Once again, "It's a Small World" rings in my mind, telling me that what happens in an elementary school a thousand miles away from us has tremendous impact on how we look at the world.

Likewise, the song reminds me that even our smallest ones are not safe and free from harm.

"...a world of laughter, a world of tears

...a world of hopes, it's a world of fear..."

As we prepare for Christmas, New Year's, Hanukah, or whatever holiday traditions your family celebrates, embrace this small and broken world... the small world of children, the small and interconnected world of our nation with both good and bad, and the small world where River Falls students are connected with family, friends, and educational systems near and far throughout the world.

That thought brings me hope, comfort, peace, and joy for the New Year, even amidst the fears and tears.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season.