PENROSE (AP) Max Engelhardt got an education he could never have learned from a textbook.
The new Penrose Elementary School principal wanted to see how people in Africa lived, so he stayed with a tribe in Kenya for four months after he completed his student teaching in Florence more than 10 years ago.
I had a teacher from Africa that was a missionary growing up, he said, and because of her missionary experience, I was always real interested in Africa.
Engelhardt, 39, lived with the Maasai tribe, then later visited them again for a month. While there, he visited Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, and Tanzania.
He appreciates the close-knit family unit he saw in Africa, as well as some of the ancient traditions the people continue to keep.
Seeing how they interact for survival is huge, he said. Young boys will be out there with their herds at age 14, with nothing but a spear guarding their herds of goats and cattle from lions.
Children played soccer with a ball made of rags.
I had never seen kids just so happy, playing with each other, loving each other and just getting along so great anywhere, he said. Even though they didnt have hardly anything, they were still happy and worked all together.
He tries to teach the same spirit of camaraderie to his students and doesnt mind rolling up his sleeves and playing a game of tetherball or four-square with students during lunch or recess.
I want them to feel like Im approachable, and they can talk to me about things, he said. I had a principal growing up that was that way, too.
He said the highlight of his teaching always has been to share his Africa experience with students, something he plans to do after getting settled into the new school year at Penrose Elementary.
I really enjoy the job, and I really enjoy the staff I am working with, he said. I feel like they have a lot of talent and knowledge very hardworking.
He hopes to be his staffs biggest cheerleader and help them as much as he can.
Not only professionally, but also get them the support they need and the recognition that they deserve for doing such a hard job in educating Americas kids, he said.
As principal, he hopes to maintain the strong family atmosphere of the school, as well as identify the gifted and talented students and expand that program.
Sometimes I think its just a matter of having a few students who are willing to take on an extra challenge, and really put themselves out there as far as taking responsibility for their own learning, he said. Sometimes thats what it takes just to get them to be gifted and talented, is that commitment and drive.
If we can do that, I think well really create some good students that America needs to help keep us paced with the rest of the world.
Engelhardt did his student teaching at Florence High School, when it was at its former location, with Steve Wolfe, Lynn Lemmon-Oliver and Mel Smith.
He has taught a variety of subjects in many different grade levels in Fremont and El Paso counties, as well as in Westcliffe and Woodland Park. He was on the school board in Park County and was the facility chairman for the new school. He is happy to have come full circle, back to the Florence-Penrose district.
I feel right at home here, he said. It was just a perfect fit, absolutely perfect fit for my background and experience and what I wanted to do.