Iowa principal wears costumes to get kids 'laughing and giggling'

School Bus
Posted at 10:50 AM, Oct 09, 2022

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (AP) — A dinosaur, a snowman, or a cowboy. You never know what you might see in the morning at Clear Lake Middle School.

Principal Mike Lester has been frequently dressing up in costumes to welcome students for four years now. A Halloween and Homecoming dress-up day enthusiast, he occasionally wears silly outfits outside of those special occasions.

“I just saw how much fun I had with (dressing up), and I like getting kids laughing and giggling,” Lester told the Mason City Globe Gazette. “I’m like, ‘Why can’t we do it every day somehow, or as much as possible?’ Getting them to come in with little smiles is the greatest thing ever.”

Before collecting costumes, Lester taught shop classes and was use to getting grease on his clothing. His change to an administrative role gave him the chance to wear “goofy, fun” outfits.

Colorful bow ties and pants to be exact.

“I always liked bow ties instead of ties. I throw a different color pants on, and I have a bunch of different color bow ties,” Lester said.

Receiving a hard hat at a district welcome-back function is what started his collection.

“That first day of school, I had orange pants, a shirt, an orange bow tie, and (the hard hat) on,” said Lester. “It just triggered me to be like, ‘I can find other stuff to do kind of like this.’”

Lester now has multiple plastic totes in his office that contain costumes, while the rest of his collection is at home. He said his wife helps find new outfits to wear to school, especially when he sees a costume he wants.

Along with his morning gear, music tends to be blasting from a large speaker he brings outside. Sometimes the tunes relate to themes, or it’s songs parents can jam to. Occasionally animals make a visit to welcome the kids, especially during “cowboy and cowgirl” day.

“Brought a horse (that year). The following year, I brought longhorn steers. Two miniature ones,” Lester said with a smile. “Last year was the pig and this year was a donkey.”

Lester is already planning big surprises during the holiday seasons and hopes to do a Hulk transformation costume. He has been compared to the Marvel hero because the vein in his neck would pop during his coaching days or times of high emotion.

“I want to slowly morph into the Hulk during October. I’ll start with the hand and then maybe the next week I’ll have a hand and my leg will be green,” said Lester. “Then by the week for Halloween, I’ll be the whole Hulk.”

According to Lester, students’ attitude when they step into school is everything. The teachers and staff at Clear Lake Middle School strive to make sure kids are able to leave their stressors at the door and focus on learning. Welcoming students in the morning, either in costume or out, is a way to start off on the right foot.

Each child has different reactions to the morning greetings, which creates individualized goals for Lester with each student on how he can make their day.

“You can read kids. I see a kid that is just kind of down and out, I do everything above and beyond to hopefully crack a little smile,” Lester says.

Sixth-grader Jason Bennett said his favorite costume so far has been the dinosaur. Jason tries to slip by the principal in the morning, but Lester teases Jason that he will find him later.

“I find it more fun when I run past,” Jason said with a grin.

“It’s a little game that we got going on,” said Lester.

Eighth-grader Jack Schlichting said Lester’s way of say good morning makes school a “welcoming” experience for him.

“It makes me happier. Just being able to go to school, like it’s hard because you’re tired in the morning,” said Schlichting.

Schlichting’s reaction is what Lester aims for when he welcomes his students, in costume or out.

“My goal of course is to get everyone laughing and smiling as they come through, both parents and kids,” said Lester.

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