Last night, a little girl got up on a big stage, settled into the spotlight and prepared to sing.
The gym at Norup International School was packed with parents and students on folding chairs and something like 30 acts of children were performing songs, dances, gymnastics, karate, jokes and skits. My sons were among them, so I was there, waiting to see my guys do their best in front of an appreciative crowd.
The little girl was tiny, with big glasses over her eyes. She carried a cardboard decorated like a door. She was to sing a song from Frozen.
She started, but halfway through, something didn’t go as planned and she crumpled into tears of disappointment in front of the microphone. A teacher and a parent ran to her, bent over in a nurturing hug, telling her it was OK, and the crowd burst into applause, chanting her name.
I was overcome with admiration, tears lining my eyes. Kids of all ages chanted her name and pumped their fists in the air. This is why I love our school. The degree of nurturing and support and encouragement and flat out love is so high – we aren’t learning academics. We are learning to care about others and function in a diverse world.
The little girl was ushered off the stage, and another act began. We cycled through all the many kids, including my little guy with his class and my big guy in his singing solo (I cried again, he was wonderful) and then, when we thought the final act was about to start, out came the same little girl with the big glasses and her decorated cardboard.
Mrs. Goldberg, a third-grade teacher who truly must have come from heaven, sat next to the girl on the stage. She held the cardboard so she could knock on it as a door and try her act again, sailing through it from start to finish.
The teacher beamed with smiles and encouragement. The girl performed her act. The audience whooped and clapped. And I can tell you that even as I’m writing this, the tears are coming.
For it’s not every day that you find yourself in a community that looks for the good in others.
It’s not every day that you realize your children are learning to be compassionate beings in this busy, crazy world.
It’s not every school where parents and children see the good in all. We’re not perfect, for certain. We surely complain when we don’t like a situation or a teacher, and we are definitely involved in the day-to-day.
It’s not every school where the principals know all 800-some kids by name and context.
Underlying it all, the math and the reading and the gym class and the crowded lunchroom are not what matters. Strip away the disparity between haves and have-nots. Forget about the fact that when I planned a VIP tea on Thursday for my daughter’s class, a third of the children were without a VIP to honor.
A peaceful, productive, wonderful world begins with a smile to a stranger, eye contact to another person, a pat on a hand to reassure another that you are there, you care. For all the problems we have in public schools in America, my kids are getting the most important lesson of all here, and for that, I am immensely grateful.