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APPLAUSE to Lance Rach, chosen as Perham-Dent School District's 2012 Teacher of the Year.

It's clear from the obvious enthusiasm of students that this Heart of the Lakes Elementary fourth grade teacher deserves the title, and his peers have had plenty of positive things to say, as well.

Kids and teachers lined the school hallways to cheer on a gleeful Rach after his win was announced. In celebration, students waved handmade posters as their new Teacher of the Year was paraded around the school on top of a floor scrubber decorated in streamers.

A PAUSE to school violence in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. The horrific events of the day left 28 people dead, and the nation in shock.

Now, nearly three weeks later, the country is still reeling.

A national conversation has begun on what could have possibly motivated the killer to commit such a heinous crime. The latest in a long line of mass shootings at schools and other public places across America, the Newtown massacre has forced open a door to public discourse. People are now talking about gun laws, mental illness, violent movies and video games, DNA and anything else that could have possibly predicted or prevented this tragedy.

These conversations are necessary, even crucial. If even a tiny bit of good comes out of the Newtown tragedy, at least there could be some sort of silver lining to this dark cloud hanging over us.

APPLAUSE to Santa Anonymous, the Perham Giving Tree, the Ottertail Rod and Gun Club and all the other local charitable programs, groups, churches and individuals who helped make the holidays a little brighter for folks in need.

As is the case every Christmas in the East Otter Tail County area, there was goodwill to go around.

Thanks to the volunteer efforts and monetary donations of the goodhearted, children who otherwise may not have gotten gifts found that Santa did, indeed, visit their house; families that could not afford a full Christmas meal received all the fixings in specially-delivered food baskets; and some nursing home residents who would have been alone on Christmas instead were visited by people with smiling faces.

It's good deeds like these that truly reflect the real reason for the season.

A PAUSE to increased prescription drug abuse, in the general population but particularly among youth.

It was announced in mid-December that, last year, for the first time in history, more people died from prescription drug overdose than from accidental overdose of illegal drugs.

We see signs of it in our local headlines - in the last few weeks, there has been more than one report of prescription medicines stolen from people's homes and mailboxes in Otter Tail County. The thieves typically resell the drugs, or are addicts themselves.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also said that, among teens, prescription drug use is the most rapidly increasing type of drug abuse. Kids often mistake these kinds of drugs as being 'safe' because a doctor prescribes them, when in fact prescription drugs are dangerous and highly addictive. It's important for parents to talk to their kids about prescription drugs and set them straight on the facts.