Kansas City Chiefs theme energizes students for upcoming 'Super Bowl of Learning'

Vic Williams, principal of McEachron Elementary School, calls out "Go Chiefs!" after singing his school's fight song while students eat lunch Tuesday afternoon. The school, along with others in Topeka USD 501, has used a Kansas City Chiefs theme to energize and inspire students as they prepare for upcoming annual testing that's been dubbed the "Super Bowl of Learning."
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Despite a visibly gimpy ankle, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambled for five yards on a crucial play late last month to help get the Chiefs into the Super Bowl.

Students in Topeka USD 501 are being encouraged to show that same kind of heart as they tackle their schoolwork, superintendent Tiffany Anderson told The Capital-Journal on Tuesday.

Anderson and others with the district told about how USD 501, for several years, has used a Kansas City Chiefs theme to energize and inspire students as they prepare for upcoming annual testing she calls "the Super Bowl of Learning."

Since Anderson became superintendent in 2016, the district's scores have generally improved in those exams, which students will soon take. They are administered by the Kansas Assessment Program.

'Learning should be fun'

Sporting clothing that shows her Kansas City Chiefs' spirit from head to toe, Topeka USD 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson walks Tuesday into the district's Bishop Educational Center.
Sporting clothing that shows her Kansas City Chiefs' spirit from head to toe, Topeka USD 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson walks Tuesday into the district's Bishop Educational Center.

Anderson, an avid Chiefs fan, said she spent a year familiarizing herself with USD 501 before she began embedding the Chiefs theme into "almost everything we do" in 2017.

"Football brings people together in a really special way," she said.

The activities involved include holding academic pep rallies — "We call them (the students) the 'TPS Chiefs,'" Anderson said — and writing to Chiefs players.

"Learning should be fun," Anderson said. "Going to school should be fun. And we are doing all we can to create an environment that's welcoming, fun and inclusive."

The district doesn't formally partner with the Chiefs.

'The broader their concept of the world will be'

Topeka USD 501 staff, from left, deputy superintendent Larry Robbins, retired McClure Elementary School Principal and current volunteer Jennifer Gordon, superintendent Tiffany Anderson, McEachron Elementary School principal Vic Williams and assistant superintendent Billie Wallace pose Tuesday while wearing their Kansas City Chiefs gear at the Bishop Educational Center.

The principal at McClure Elementary School in 2017 was Jennifer Gordon, who now volunteers for Topeka schools.

Gordon recalled that when Anderson asked that they implement "some aspect of Chiefdom" in their schools, she and Vic Williams, principal of McEachron Elementary School, tied the Chiefs into efforts they had already initiated focusing on the importance of positive character traits, such as courage.

They arranged for their students to learn about ways in which Chiefs' players and coaches demonstrate such traits, said Gordon, who retired from McClure in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs built a roster filled with players of good character and established themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL, she said.

Dressed as Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Vic Williams, principal of McEachron Elementary School, waves a Chiefs flag as he enters his school's cafeteria Tuesday to rally students at lunch time.
Dressed as Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Vic Williams, principal of McEachron Elementary School, waves a Chiefs flag as he enters his school's cafeteria Tuesday to rally students at lunch time.

"So the Chiefs' philosophies and the way their seasons are playing out, I think, just fits hand in glove with what we're trying to do in Topeka public schools," Gordon said.

She said she likes that incorporating the Chiefs theme into their studies helps students to become more familiar with the world outside Topeka.

"The more we expose children to examples like this, the broader their concept of the world will be," Gordon said.

'You fight through adversity'

Teamwork is another topic that's been highlighted as part of the district's focus on the Chiefs, said USD 501 deputy superintendent Larry Robbins.

In this time of divisiveness in society, it's particularly important to teach young people the importance of working as a team, he said.

USD 501 deputy superintendent Larry Robbins displays his dancing Chiefs bear alongside a signed Super Bowl LIV football and other memorabilia Tuesday.
USD 501 deputy superintendent Larry Robbins displays his dancing Chiefs bear alongside a signed Super Bowl LIV football and other memorabilia Tuesday.

Robbins said USD 501 educators relate what they are entrusted to do with what they see happening with the Chiefs.

For the school district, he said, "winning the Super Bowl" means developing college-ready or career-ready students.

"There's going to be difficult times, but — just as Patrick Mahomes did with his high ankle sprain — you fight through adversity and you find a way to be successful and win, and that's what Topeka public schools is starting to do," Robbins said.

More:Topeka Board of Education extends Superintendent Tiffany Anderson's contract to 2024

What does a class of Topeka third-graders think?

Topeka illustrator Rob Peters reads from the book "Go Chiefs Go!" Wednesday morning at McClure Elementary School. Peters illustrated the children's book, which tells the story of the Kansas City Chiefs season that culminated with a Super Bowl win in February 2020.
Topeka illustrator Rob Peters reads from the book "Go Chiefs Go!" Wednesday morning at McClure Elementary School. Peters illustrated the children's book, which tells the story of the Kansas City Chiefs season that culminated with a Super Bowl win in February 2020.

The Chiefs-related fun in USD 501 has been "amped up" since the team earned a place in the Super Bowl, Anderson said.

The district beginning Feb. 2 and running through next Monday is observing daily "Chiefs Spirit" days, in which students can show their Chiefs spirit any way they like, including by wearing Chiefs clothing, she said.

Topekan Rob Peters, the father of two students at McClure, appeared before two classes there Wednesday to read "Go Chiefs Go!" a children's book he illustrated in 2020 telling the story of the season that ended earlier that year with the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl.

Anderson made an appearance later that day at McClure, where a video posted on the district's Facebook page showed her handing out Chiefs items and twice enthusiastically leading third-grade students in a chant of "Go Chiefs!"

"The Chiefs, they show so much character," Anderson said. "Can someone share one character trait that they see in the Chiefs?"

The students said the Chiefs have shown themselves to be caring, respectful, responsible, trustworthy, confident and fair, and said they also show good citizenship.

More:For Topeka superintendent Tiffany Anderson, life as a minister is next step after love as a wife

'Derrick Thomas loved children'

A KC Chiefs jersey from former great, No. 58 Derrick Thomas, is shown off by USD 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson on Tuesday.
A KC Chiefs jersey from former great, No. 58 Derrick Thomas, is shown off by USD 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson on Tuesday.

Anderson took off the jacket she was wearing and showed the third-graders she was wearing a No. 58 jersey honoring Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, who had died exactly 23 years earlier to the day, on Feb. 8, 2000.

Thomas, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, still holds the NFL record for sacks recorded in a single game by a player. That was eight, set in 1990.

Thomas was 33 years old when he died from a pulmonary embolism suffered two weeks after a car crash left him paraplegic.

Thomas was named as the NFL's "Man of the Year" because of the positive things he did for children, Anderson told McClure students.

Thomas received that award in 1993, three years after he founded the Derrick Thomas Third and Long Foundation to "sack illiteracy" and improve life for urban youngsters in the Greater Kansas City Area.

"Derrick Thomas loved children," Anderson said.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at threnchir@gannett.com or 785-213-5934.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Topeka schools use KC Chiefs theme to energize and inspire students