Getting Students Active in School and in the Community

In this NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership video podcast, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with Kansas middle school principal Don Epps about getting the most out of the school day for students and staff and helping students find ways to become active in their community.

Center for Innovative Leadership

Principal Don Epps goes to great lengths to bring a fun environment into Royster Middle School in Chanute, Kansas. That’s not an understatement. Case in point: He’s growing out his beard for an upcoming video in which he’ll impersonate “Willie Nelson” singing about hot pockets. Now that’s commitment! The video idea is a special request from his kids—and his entire series of videos is all for his kids. His videos have made him famous in the Chanute community as a means to connect with families and students in a fun way.

Fun aside, anyone who enters the doors of Royster knows exactly what the school stands for: kindness, honesty, patience, and respect. Epps and his team encourage all of the students to chase greatness. It’s a motto that extends beyond the classroom walls. And it encourages all students to be in relentless pursuit of being the best version of themselves as possible.

The Challenges:

  1. How do we ensure students and staff get the most out of a school day?
  2. How do we help students find ways to become active in their community?

Principal Spotlight:

Don Epps
Principal, Royster Middle School, Chanute, Kansas
Twitter: @DonEppsEDU

Like all principals, Epps has interests outside of education. A major one: Watching wrestling. (FYI, don’t even think about mentioning John Cena in Epps’ presence. Don’t do it. You’ve been warned.) It’s the showmanship and competition that keeps interested in it. And he brings that energy into his school as he reminds his students that with challenges come bigger rewards. His advice: “Keep moving forward. Keep battling. Never give up. And take failure as a way to keep rolling and keep learning.”

What You’ll Learn

In this video, Epps shows you how he makes the most of spaces in his school to keep kids active and gives students ways to become actively involved in their community. You’ll learn ideas to:

  • Identify focus areas for the school. At Royster, it’s hard to forget where the faculty and staff and students should be putting their focus. It’s written on the walls. Royster focuses on academic achievement, social-emotional character development, an active and healthy school culture, and a safe learning environment. This focus areas are found across student learning and professional development.
  • Help students to become active in their community. Royster students converged on the town’s annual Masonic School Bus Race—a tradition since 2014 that sees proceeds benefit five Masonic lodges in the area and local schools. The school’s choir even performed at the most reason race. During the event, the loudest school by measure of applause and cheers gets $1,000, too. Plus, students from each school decorate the donated school buses that take part in the race.
  • Include students in everything. “I have an awesome production crew for my videos,” says Ebbs. It’s not some big company; it’s three 12-year-old students at Royster. One works security as he ensures “quiet on the set,” while another films. They all have their roles—and together they produce high-quality videos that entertain and teach students.
  • Get students—and staff—moving. Students in Ebbs’ school are always being active. It’s not just during gym class, though this is important, too. The school purchases uniforms (and even shoes, if necessary) for kids wear to gym class, and the school even washes them onsite. When students walk down the halls, they encounter “active hallways,” which encourage kids to get moving as they walk around the school. Ebbs doesn’t just limit this notion to students. At staff meetings, faculty and staff get up and moving around, too.

Three main takeaways:

  1. Tell your school’s story—or someone else is going to tell it for you.
  2. Use students’ passions and talents to help other students learn.
  3. Follow the 10-percent rule. The first 10 percent of the school year, the first 10 percent of a school day, or the first 10 percent of class time can determine the outcome of the entire year, day, or class.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.