Hans Appel has been a Counselor at Enterprise Middle School in the Richland School District in WA for the past 17+ years. Recently, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and this fall rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation.
Hans is absolutely driven to helping students and educators find purpose and joy in life. Just listening to his passion when he talks about school culture and Character Strong made me want to learn more about him, his life, the kids, and his school. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
About you and where you live
I was born in Westfield, New Jersey, and an only child. My family moved to Corpus Christie, Texas when I was a little kid. My dad was a chemical engineer and my mom was an art teacher and interior designer. When I was in second grade, we moved to Richland, Washington so he could work at the Hanford Nuclear site. I spent most of my life here and went to Hanford High School where I met my wife, Jennifer and been married for 19 of the 24 years we’ve been together. Jennifer is a passionate educator and teaches at the same school as me, Enterprise Middle School, as a Language Arts teacher and teaches leadership. We are fortunate to work together and talk the same language.
We don’t have children of our own. Our kids are the kids at our school where we spend our energy. We have two dogs that are Shelties who are babies who we love and spoil. We live in the city of Kennewick which is in the Southeast corner of Washington and is much drier than Seattle. It is more like the climate of Napa, CA so it is conducive to growing wine.
Your journey in school
A school was good up through elementary school. Middle school was where school got really hard for me. My parents were fighting a lot in kind of an abusive home and not the greatest situation for me at that age. Learning in school really became secondary. I didn’t get good grades in middle school and didn’t find my own until high school where I got into sports. I’m 6’4” so I was a basketball player. The more I got into basketball, the more I realized that grades mattered. I had to keep my grades up to stay eligible, but that is also where I started getting excited about my education. I went to Central Washington University which was 2 hours away. I took business and psychology classes. The more psychology classes I took, the more I realized I was more into human behavior and how to help others.
While I was in college, my parents went through a divorce, and I became their mediator. This was a weird role to play as a 19 or 20-year-old kid, but I kind of helped both of them through that experience. So while all of that was going on, Jennifer was in the education program. She had come from a long line of educators who asked me if I ever thought of education. As I took more psychology classes and was learning to help others, it just felt like a natural fit. When I was graduating with a masters in school counseling and because of my own experiences, I knew, unequivocally, that I only wanted to work in middle school. I believed that was where the kids needed me the most.
School Counselor at Enterprise Middle School (EMS Counselor)
When I graduated, I went to work at Hanford Middle School which was my alma mater which closed in 2005. The district built Enterprise MS where most of the Hanford MS staff went. There’s this core group, two-thirds of us, that have been together for 15 to 20 years. It’s like we’re a family here, and it is pretty special. I’m lucky to have the best administration in the district and top of the line support staff and teachers who put kids first and care about making this place amazing. I realized as a school counselor there are a lot of things I don’t have influence over what happens to students at home or around decisions made at the district office. As a counselor, I have a lot of influence on what our school culture looks like and how that impacts experiences for students. Love this quote from Peter Drucker:
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
That makes so much sense to me because there are so many intentional small things we can do on a daily basis that lift other people’s spirits
About Wildcat Nation
Wildcat Nation is Our Brand. We have spent a few years building that brand. Joe Sanfellipo has this quote that really stuck with me.
“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not around.”
School brands have to go beyond mascots and logos and have to be rooted in authenticity. It can’t be a couple of people coming up with a cool name or idea. It has to be something that grows naturally. We focused on three main parts with these questions:
- Character: Will you do the right thing?
- Excellence: Will you do your best?
- Community: What will you do for others today?
Wildcat Nation has become who we are. A student mentioned to me that school for her is “a place where kindness is normal.”
Kindness and Social Emotional Learning program
We’ve been doing advisories for about 8 years that involve three areas:
- Social-emotional learning
- College and career
The first 30 minutes of every Friday, students learning one of those aspects of education. Students loop with their teachers so they build relationships with their teachers that last three years. It has been pretty successful for a while, but we decided it was time to update our social-emotional curriculum.
We found in our research CHARACTER STRONG that was created by John Norlin and Houston Kraft who have combined character ed and social-emotional learning. We realized we were missing the character ed piece because character really gives social-emotional the why. Instead of teaching kids what not to do, it’s more a proactive way of teaching them how to be kind, to serve, and use empathy. It’s highly experiential because it gets kids up and moving around. Not only in lessons, but there are also challenges outside of advisory. They do things called “Character Dares” where they are asked to do things in the community, in the school, in other classes, and at home. There is part of this program that will move you to tears and impactful for teachers and students. The two-day training I had a year ago on Character Strong was the best professional training that I’ve had my entire career. It was a life changing event for me and highly recommend it for other educators. It really helps you deeply discover your why and is so powerful in how you can use that message to change the world.
What Character Strong looks like at EMS
Every morning, our kids greet others as they come to school. There are high fives, fist bumps, and music playing. It’s so powerful. No matter what the weather is, the kids make everyone feel welcome to our school. We have something that we call “Golden Broom” which is a demonstration of service to those who serve us. It is really special when we recognize people like our custodian and had the kids work for the custodian for 30 minutes to give him a break. They also made hot cider and cookies and brought those to the bus drivers. Those kinds of things were sprinkled throughout the year.
Golden Broom: “A Demonstration of Service to those who SERVE US.”
Blogging about Special Magic
It started because our school was getting attention and people wanted to see what is the special magic that is happening at Enterprise Middle School. John Norlin and Houston Kraft reached out to me to start writing some blog posts for Character Strong just sharing our story. That basically morphed into having other people at our school writing. So we asked educators and others LA Teacher, Parent, B-Ball Coach, Math Teacher who were experiencing the magic like I was. What they found was that those were some of the most popular blogs that were posted on Character Strong. When the students started sharing their stories, that’s when I got excited about student voice.
In early Spring 2018, I attended the annual SERVUS Conference in Kent, Wa where students, speakers, authors, celebrities, and athletes showed up with 7-8 hours of inspiring work. Just imagine all the best leadership minds in your state together in an arena to learn from each other. I was listening to some of the speakers and there was this holocaust survivor that was talking. I mentioned to my wife that we need to make this happen more than once a year.
Listen to more from Hans Appel about the student-led podcast and how it was created in the podcast along with information about the following awards:
-2018 ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington
-2017-2018 Global Class Act Award for Random Acts of Kindness
Hans Appel has been a Counselor in the Richland School District, for the past 17+ years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened in 2005. He’s passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness. In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington, for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy.
Additionally, RandomActs of Kindness chose Wildcat Nation as the 2017-2018 Global Class Act Winner for “making kindness normal.” Recently, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and this fall rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation. Hans is absolutely driven to help students and educators find purpose and joy in life.