School principals? YUCK! “No thanks,” say millions of kids, who would rather not eat ice cream for a whole summer than have to spend one minute in the principal’s office. But there is one town, Pasco, Washington, where the kids not only love their principal — in some cases, he’s their best friend.
If all that mushy talk makes you want to toss up your chicken nuggets, consider this: the kids at Ellen Ochoa Middle School get to choose what they want for lunch. EVERY DAY! They also get to pick which sports to play for gym class, like dodgeball or whirly bump. No more President’s Physical Fitness Challenge for these kids — thanks Mr. Nelbond!
Since becoming principal at Ellen Ochoa Middle School in 2009, Mr. Nelbond (or should we say “Rad Randy”, as he likes to have the kids call him) has worked hard to put the COOL back in sChOOL. “The first thing I did was install a bunch of free soda machines,” says Principal Nelbond. “I thought, ‘Hey, these kids like sodas just as much as I do, so let’s give it to ‘em!” That sure does sound cool, but we were still pretty skeptical, since most kids would rather admit to liking iCarly than trusting a princiDULL. So we asked a few kids what they really thought.
“Mr. Nelbond is alright,” says sixth grader Lystra Monico. Woah! Really?! “He sometimes comes on the loud speaker and tells everyone that it’s backwards time, so we all have to walk around backwards and try to talk backwards and stuff. It’s awesome because on days like that we don’t get homework, because when class ends its actually the beginning of class in backwards time, so we didn’t learn anything new.”
Dennis Lee, a seventh grader, agrees. “Normally, I’d rather get a swirly from Mike Bugle than listen to what a principal has to say, but Rad Randy is different.” Oh yeah, what does he do? Wear goofy suits with tear-away sleeves and spray paint his car with all sorts of funny sayings from throughout the year? “Yeah, that’s exactly what he does. Sometimes he just writes PLEASE LOVE ME with a bunch of exclamation points. And other times, he comes into the cafeteria and pours a plate of fried chicken down his pants!” We here at Minutiæ Kids are still laughing ourselves silly over that one.
Mr. Nelbond has been known to really bond with the kids too: “My parents were pretty absent when I was younger, so I grew up watching a lot of Captain Kangaroo and Fred Penner’s Place by myself. They taught me how to be silly, but no one ever taught me how to be myself.” Uh, bummer alert!
Although sometimes, even the Principal’s antics can get to be too much. “He has a pogo stick,” says teenager Rian Downling, “which is cool, but sometimes it just sort of gets in the way. It’s like, it’s kind of funny, but sometimes I just want to walk to class.”
Thankfully, Principal Nelbond’s shattered family has led to a successful career as both a teacher and administrator in the Pacific Northwest. Before coming to Ellen Ochoa Middle School, Mr. Nelbond worked at summer camps, children’s hospitals and head-start schools for years, honing his craft as a jokester.
“You pick up things along the way,” he says. “I used to go home and cry in my apartment a lot, but then I would go into the cancer wing of the children’s hospital, where all of these poor kids were suffering, and I would just cry some more. That would really freak them out, unless I did something silly beforehand, like pretend to fall over a wet floor sign. So I was able to channel my own emotions into the work I love to do for the children.”
And have there ever been any times when that didn’t work? “Sure,” says Principal Nelbond. “I did a couple of weeks in an inner-city high school near Seattle, and it’s a different world at that grade level. The kids here, they love when I declare it Teacher Is The Student Day, but in Seattle there was a riot. I got pushed into a locker and left for an entire weekend. It was… it was a dark time.” And with a single tear forming, Principal Nelbond pulls out a clown nose, squeaks it, and bursts into sobbing laughter. Zoinks!
So the next time you think you’d rather sit on a whoopee cushion every day in homeroom than have to hang out with your principal, know that out in Washington state, there is an entire school where kids might just be doing both — and loving it. ♦