PHOTO BY ANNA GOODSON
When the students at Pecan Park Elementary School hear the familiar crackle of the intercom on Friday mornings, they know what’s coming next. They must pay close attention to Principal Wanda Quon’s calming voice as she reads from a selected text, then correctly answer questions about the passage to win the prize: a snack and their name posted on the hallway wall.
This weekly quiz—the “Principal’s Challenge”—is just one way Wanda tries to challenge the typical educational environment.
“I have the philosophy and belief that school should be fun. Sure, you’ve got to do the academic part of it, but this is a child’s life,” Wanda said. “If you’re going to make it where they hate school, if you’re going to make it where it’s boring—pencil and paper—we’re not going to get anything out of them.”
The 24-year veteran in administration at Pecan Park has fond memories of her own early education. She attributes her passion for academia to her 3rd grade teacher at St. Patrick in Lake Providence, Louisiana.— Sister Mary Joseph. Wanda said, Sister Josephwas never afraid to hike up her habit and play with her students.
The principal displayed her own playfulness recently when she launched a campaign that rewarded students who completed a series of reading assignments with the opportunity to “slime” their favorite teacher. “It was cold,” Wanda said with a shiver. “That’s the thing I remember most about the slime.”
Similar campaigns allowed readers to put on a karaoke show, have their photograph taken in a picture booth and visit with a live pig.
The long-time educator’s persistence is apparent in the way she finds ways to excite students about reading. Several photos of Wanda with book-toting, smiling children hang on her office door. Any student can sign up to read a book to their principal. In return, Wanda writes a personalized note thanking each student.
It’s that kind of interaction that Wanda has prioritized in the principal’s office. With over a decade of teaching under her belt, she knows how important it is to develop relationships with her students and staff. Growing up in a Chinese family in rural Louisiana helps to emphasize her idea.
Wanda remembers Sister Joseph visiting her family to include them in several community activities when she was a child. Because there were not many Chinese families in Lake Providence, the Sister’s hospitality helped Wanda to feel “not so segregated.”
“I try to bring that inclusiveness that I think I had,” she said.
Wanda was born in Louisiana, where her parents migrated from China. Her family spoke Chinese in her childhood home, making English her second language. Because of that background, Wanda is looking forward to Pecan Park becoming the first school in central Mississippi to host special English Language Learner (ELL) classes starting next year.
Still, if you hear an accent from Wanda, it’s a Southern one.