A Rural Kentucky School is Making Education Fun

EMINENCE, Ky. – In a rural part of Kentucky, there’s a public school where the teachers and staff think differently about how to engage students. 

“We wanted to create a school that kids wanted to be at,” said Superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools, Buddy Berry. “We wanted to be the Disney World of education.”

Two years after he became the superintendent, Berry injected the school with a new philosophy called “Surprise and Delight.”

“It’s what captures kids’ imaginations. It adds an element of fun and student engagement. For us, it’s taking anything else that people take for granted and kind of cranking it up to awesome,” Berry said.

With fewer than 900 kids from pre-school to high school, the public school district incorporates elements of “Surprise and Delight” everywhere. Outside classrooms, a common area looks like a Silicon Valley start-up. Inside the classroom, teachers utilize engaging activities and add extra elements to keep students on their toes.

“I’m a big fan of surprise and delight philosophy. I think that it lets kids know that you care. Like it’s the difference between somebody giving you a book and giving you a book that they hand-wrapped and they put a card on it,” said K-8 teacher Kendra Waddell.

Even lunchtime delights, with a red slide that students go down to restaurant-style booth seating that has TV screens, which play a student-run newscast.  

 “They make it very enjoyable to be here,” said junior Keaton Fenwick.

And “Surprise and Delight” seems to also have that impact on other students.

“So our enrollment is almost double here now. We can’t say that’s directly because of that [“Surprise and Delight”]. Probably not just that, but it’s definitely created a place where people want to work, and they want to be and they want to attend school. Our attendance has never been better. Our enrollment has never been better,” Berry told Spectrum News 1.

Berry said approximately 65 percent of the students are on free and reduced lunch. He said there is also a high level of poverty and homelessness.

“So being able to create an atmosphere where anything is possible really starts to drive home the fact that these kids have a future, and a plan, and a path,” Berry said.

For the first time, Berry designated the first week of February in 2020 as “Surprise and Delight” week. Eminence teachers will post their “Surprise and Delight” lessons on social media using #SurpriseAndDelight.