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Minutiæ Kids9.13

The Principal That’s Cool At School!

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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. ♦