Principal boosts morale with wacky anticsApr 03, 2022 07:55PM ● By Jet Burnham
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Things have been pretty wacky in local elementary schools for the past few months. In February, teachers and students dressed up as 100 year-olds to celebrate the 100th day of school. They wore tutus, turtlenecks, ties and tiaras to celebrate Tuesday 2-22-22. There were silly socks and crazy hairstyles for Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2. And now it is April Fool’s Day and everyone is waiting to see what Columbia Elementary Principal Abe Yospe, the wackiest of them all, will do.
“We always say he's the biggest kid here at school,” front office secretary Holly Infante said.
Yospe is a fun-loving administrator who loves to joke around with both students and staff to build relationships. He loves to dress up in various costumes including the Grinch, Obi Wan Kenobi, a leprechaun and a pink rabbit.
Last April Fool’s Day, he held a “flood drill.” He and the office staff wore life preservers and encouraged students to roll up their pant legs so they wouldn’t get wet.
“We had them go out of the building doing the backstroke or the front stroke, pretending they were swimming,” Yospe said. “It was pretty funny.”
Kindergarten teacher Megan Mattson said the students adore Yospe.
“I think his fun attitude makes him seem more accessible and less intimidating to students,” she said. “Mr. Yospe spends a lot of time building relationships with the students and it clearly shows.”
One of Yospe’s running gags is that he insists there are animals living in the school basement. This year, there are camels. He posts “Beware of camels” signs and often refers to them during morning announcements.
“He'll just pick on a random teacher that day and say she has camel duties and really it's nothing, it's just a joke,” Infante said.
Other years there were pigs and then goats living in the basement. That year, Yospe arranged for a goat yoga session for his staff and surprised students by bringing the goats “out of the basement” for a visit at the end of the year.
Yospe admits it might be harder to bring the camels “out of the basement” this year but it's a tradition that he feels helps improve morale.
“We try to keep things light in hard years like this,” Yospe said. His idea of “keeping things light” involves playing jokes on staff members.
Humor is the way Yospe bonds with his colleagues, as Mattson found out during her first few days at Columbia Elementary.
“We had some materials shipped in these giant boxes that had found their resting place near the front office,” Mattson said. “Mr. Yospe hid in these giant boxes and proceeded to call each and every teacher to the office. And as we walked by... boom! He definitely jump-started a couple hearts—one of my favorite memories to this day. As a new teacher, you feel like you don't know anybody and he instantly makes people feel welcomed, loved, and part of the family.”
Yospe has also made a game of hiding a creepy ventriloquist doll in random places around the school. Whoever finds it gets a shock, laughs about it and then hides it for the next victim.
“Stuff like that is fun and it keeps things light,” Yospe said. “Teachers are super overwhelmed and so anything we can do...”
Yospe also makes professional development days fun for teachers, such as the goat yoga session he arranged three years ago. This year, he invited a professional bingo caller to one of their meetings and turned another into a group paint night.
“I feel like anything we can do to get the teachers through this year and bonded together—it's important because they definitely are feeling it this year,” Yospe said.
The staff members are good-natured about Yospe’s jokes, especially when they can turn the jokes on him in return.
“I have never found the ventriloquist doll in my own classroom, but I will admit that I have hidden some old (and haunted looking) porcelain dolls in his office,” Mattson said.
Mattson is used to Yospe’s tricks. He often pretends to eat Play-Doh whenever he visits the kindergarten classroom. One day, to the delight of the students, he ate an entire can of Play-Doh, which he’d secretly filled with blue cookie dough. When Mattson overcame her shock and realized what he’d done, she formed a plan to get back at him.
“I ended up writing a note home to his wife (just like we write notes home to parents sometimes) encouraging better behavior,” she said. “It was a big hit with his wife. We pinned it to his shirt and everything to make sure it found its way home.”
In August, a sign, which appeared to be signed by Yospe, was posted on the sixth grade doors stating, “I hereby allow sixth grade teachers to do what they want, when they want!” The “liberated” teachers had a giggle as Yospe insisted he did not approve the sign.
Mattson said these light-hearted gags help ease the stress of challenging days and make teachers and students look forward to coming to school everyday.
“COVID has hit morale worldwide, but Mr. Yospe's humor makes the school environment light, cheerful, and truly pleasant,” she said. “We can always count on a joyous face greeting us or saying hello in the halls. There is something special about Columbia and I truly believe that Mr. Yospe is at the center of this. He has created an environment that is so unique.”