An unusual tradition brings joy (and celebrities) to students at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy

Jose Juan Urquizo and Ivan Rodriguez dress up as peanut butter and jelly toast while delivering ice cream sandwiches to students at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Salinas, Calif.
Jose Juan Urquizo and Ivan Rodriguez dress up as peanut butter and jelly toast while delivering ice cream sandwiches to students at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Salinas, Calif.

There is always a surprise waiting for Martin Luther King Jr. Academy students at the end of every week.

At any moment, celebrities may walk in through their classroom door, ready with treats and surprises. Students were recently visited by Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny's cousin Pan Bunny (a slice of jelly toast with an afro and aviator glasses) and his side kick jelly toast.

On other days, students are visited by superman, batman, famous luchadores, football players, or the famous Chapulin Colorado (the red grasshopper), a superhero well-known in the world of Latino entertainment.

Two administrators wear 'Nemo' and 'Dory' hats as they welcome a new student during virtual announcements at Martin Luther King Jr Academy in Salinas, Calif.
Two administrators wear 'Nemo' and 'Dory' hats as they welcome a new student during virtual announcements at Martin Luther King Jr Academy in Salinas, Calif.

The faces behind the masks and costumes are no mystery: Principal Jose Juan Urquizo and Vice Principal Ivan Rodriguez.

The administrators made it their mission to create a fun new tradition that not only gets students to laugh, but gives them something to look forward to at the end of a long and busy school week.

"It's just to add humor to the day, make it fun for kids and staff and end the week on a positive note," Urquizo says. "The reason we do this and a raffle is also because it gets the kids to come to school."

Jose Urquizo and Ivan Rodriguez dress as Chips and Salsa and attempt to ride donkey piñatas inside a classroom in Salinas, Calif.
Jose Urquizo and Ivan Rodriguez dress as Chips and Salsa and attempt to ride donkey piñatas inside a classroom in Salinas, Calif.

They meet with classrooms during a live virtual show every Friday morning. The costumed administrators dance and perform short skits, announce the week's activities, and address school-related issues, all while staying in character.

Prizes and treats are raffled off to winning classrooms, with a virtual picker wheel.

New students are brought into the show to break the ice and get introduced to their peers in a fun way. Through a laptop, they wave hello to the students in the classrooms and answer questions about themselves.

"I moved to a lot of schools, I was a migrant student and I was always nervous," Urquizo says. "Moving schools at that age, it's not easy feeling like a stranger and not knowing anyone. This is something I know would've helped me for people to say hi and know my name."

The silly costumes and games aren't just for the laughs.

Rodriguez explains their goal was also to create a fun and welcoming environment for students who may have been negatively impacted or experienced loneliness or anxiety during the pandemic and its lockdowns.

"We don't know what troubles they're coming in with at school, even staff members," Rodriguez said. "But, when they come in and see us doing something fun, it takes them away from whatever they're going through."

The idea for the costumes came from Urquizo, who says it is a tradition he began while working at a previous school. It didn't take much convincing for Rodriguez to get on board.

Students pose for photos with Principal Jose Urquizo and Vice Principal Ivan Rodriguez at Martin Luther King Jr Academy in Salinas, Calif.
Students pose for photos with Principal Jose Urquizo and Vice Principal Ivan Rodriguez at Martin Luther King Jr Academy in Salinas, Calif.

"I never had anything like this. For a lot of us, principals and teachers were always seen as these intimidating, authoritative figures," Rodriguez said. "The students get so happy and loud, they start clapping and going up to us when they see us dressed up."

At the end of the day, the administrators say it is all about seeing the smiles on student's faces. Something as simple as riding a donkey piñata while wearing a sombrero and pretend swimming with a fish hat is enough.

The costumes are mostly paid for out of pocket, but the administrators say family members will sometimes donate costumes.

"The kids really like this so, we'll just keep on going," Urquizo said. "Humor is great for everyone's health."

Principal Jose Juan Urquizo and vice principal Ivan Rodriguez wear 'Finding Nemo' hats for students at Martin Luther King Jr Academy in Salinas, Calif.
Principal Jose Juan Urquizo and vice principal Ivan Rodriguez wear 'Finding Nemo' hats for students at Martin Luther King Jr Academy in Salinas, Calif.

Urquizo says they hope to start up a YouTube channel where parents can see their costumes and weekly shows. Their next mission is to find a costume to top all the others and go big for this upcoming Halloween.

"We always come up with something. We have that sense that we are sidekicks, a dynamic duo, so we'll try to match," Rodriguez said. "We want to share this and just have fun."

This article originally appeared on Salinas Californian: Traditions at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy make waves