Guest Column

I Always Stop for Lemonade

by Jerry Beach

Cars honk behind me as I slow down to read the sign: “Cold Lemonade — 25 cents.” My wife rolls her eyes because she knows I’ll veer across three lanes of traffic to circle the block and find a place to park.

You’ve seen these stands. They’re staffed by excited kids, watched by parents on the porch or by bored older brothers and sisters hiding behind the curtains in the house.

The promise of cold lemonade is seldom delivered, but what an enthusiastic reception when you walk up as possibly the first customer of the day. Nervous laughs and grins greet you as these merchants prepare to do jobs already assigned in a strategic planning meeting.

The CEO of the group asks whether you want lemonade. The wait staff springs into action. Someone holds the Styrofoam cup in the wind, another one pours, and another may add ice (or what’s left of the cubes in the tray). Some stands have brownies or cookies, always at a reasonable price. I’ve even purchased friendship bracelets probably left over from a recent garage sale.

I give the cashier $1 and tell these entrepreneurs to “keep the change.” They abandon their posts yelling, “Mom, that man gave us a whole dollar!”

A Supportive Bunch
During my career journey to the school superintendency, I’ve had the privilege to be mentored by, and team with, countless education professionals who not only stop for lemonade, but also buy fundraiser items they’ll never use. Likewise, they’ll “lend” lunch money to students knowing the cash won’t come back in this lifetime and take the job home with them thinking about what happens tomorrow.

Across my state, school communities wrestle with a multitude of challenges with no one set of strategies that will fit every district. Yet while facing the need to address budgets, create assessments and provide for school safety, the educational leaders I know still find the time and energy to appreciate the “little” things that make a difference in school life.

School leaders watch in awe as an entire student body sits attentively as a military veteran talks about America, the sacrifice of others and what it means to be able to gather in peaceful assembly. School leaders are gladdened when students give blood at a school-sponsored bloodmobile while other student volunteers stand ready to help those of us adult donors who faint. We also marvel at the generosity of students who don’t have much themselves, yet readily contribute to a holiday food drive.

Comforting Idea
One thought I picked up at a workshop is something I share when discussing what’s happening at my schools. I tell people that every day, each student gets my best shot. It’s the right thing to do for students, and there’s a very personal relationship established. Labor statistics indicate that members of my generation will have two people in the work force contributing to Social Security when we’re eligible. However, we don’t get to choose those two people.

My wife and I recently became grandparents for the first time. In our granddaughter’s future, and in the futures of all those we serve, it’s a great comfort to know that if any of you see a little girl selling lemonade, you’ll probably dodge traffic, stop at her stand and tell her to keep the change.

Jerry Beach is superintendent of the Fort Calhoun Community Schools, P.O. Box 430, Fort Calhoun, NE 68023. E-mail: jbeach@esu3.org. His column is reprinted with permission from the Nebraska Council of School Administrators newsletter.