Sparta — The question of the day for Ridgeview students is often, “what crazy hat will Mr. Wagner be wearing when I get to school?”
On a recent morning, PE teacher Andy Wagner donned an elephant hat while greeting students as they came into school.
“You’re an elephant,” said one student.
“What are you doing?” asked another.
“What am I doing? I’m acting normal today,” said Wagner. “That’s what you do, right, put elephants on your head?”
Said another student: “Is the elephant eating your head?”
“It’s trying to, “ Wagner responded.
It started in fall 2020, when students were coming back to school in-person and PE teacher Wagner wanted to help ease kids’ anxiety.
“Kids (were) coming in not knowing what it’s going to be like with mask mandates, quarantine and social distancing,” said Wagner, who is in his 23rd year at Sparta. “There was a lot of anxiety from parents and kids.”
‘It turned into a game for the kids in the morning, kind of getting them excited to come to school’— PE teacher Andy Wagner
At the suggestion of his wife, Wagner, who previously taught grades 3-5 and kindergarten, dug out his Dr. Seuss hat along with an old fishing hat.
“I said, ‘Yeah, sounds kind of fun. I can do silly things. I teach elementary school; it’s kind of my job,’ so I started doing that. I started wearing silly hats in the morning. I got some smiles and got some waves from the kids and the parents and then really, it’s kind of evolved from there.”
Wagner kept adding to his collection and now has 37 hats, but that number will likely go up.
“I found some hats (at home) in our dress-up stuff for my kids, brought a couple of those in — a cowboy hat and crown — and then it kind of morphed into kids actually started bringing me hats. A few parents brought me hats for me to wear, and the kids were bringing some in (too).”
In the last year, some students even came back from their vacations with a new hat for him. “Kids have gotten pretty creative in finding hats for me to wear. I can’t complain about what I have.”
Wagner’s hats have also created a fun competition for some families.
“I had a few parents tell me that, over the course of that first year, they started trying to guess what hat I was wearing, so it turned into a game for the kids in the morning, kind of getting them excited to come to school. ‘What hat is he going to wear today?’
“And so with a few parents, I would kind of cheat and let them know ahead of time, like, ‘I’ll be wearing this hat on Friday so you can guess correctly.’”