Above and beyond: How educator Richard Weerts ’10 is a cheerleader for his students’ success

Posted July 08, 2024

Richard Weerts

Richard Weerts ’10 did not set out to be an educator when he grew up. 

“As a little boy growing up in Olathe, Kansas, I wanted to do the stereotypical things,” he chuckles. “Basketball star, football star, soccer star, you know, those types of jobs.”

When he came to K-State, he started out in business and family studies, and then considered social work. 

But the place he eventually landed — education — has turned out to be his life’s true passion, and now he can’t imagine himself doing anything else.

“One thing that just kept coming back was service to others, helping people, and then teaching people skills,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a really good experience.”

Weerts has spent time in the classroom as a teacher and now serves as an assistant principal at Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, Maryland.

He and his wife, Hailey Petersen Weerts ’10, were high school sweethearts who attended K-State together. He said one of his favorite parts of their K-State education was getting to experience the world in a totally new way.

“Coming from high school, going to experience the world in a way that you've just never had the opportunity to do,” he said. “That idea of just being immersed in a place with people that come from all different backgrounds, I think it's been one of the defining moments of my life. We had such a great experience. We still have lifelong friends that I have been in contact ever since.”

He says another one of his defining K-State student experiences was serving as one of the founding members of the Kansas State Volunteer Center, which is now known as HandsOn Kansas State

“Just the opportunity of being a student leader of now HandsOn Kansas State and just getting to talk to community organizations, and talk to students and connect students with groups, and find needs in the community, that was just such a wonderful opportunity and something I enjoyed,” he said. “Through that, I connected with Special Olympics, and a group of my friends and I, we coached the basketball team for a couple of years and just made great connections with the athletes.”

During his time at K-State, he said he learned the importance of getting to authentically know a community, and that has carried over into the different places he’s lived and worked, from New Orleans, Louisiana, to the Washington, D.C., metro area.

“We've just found a lot of joy getting to experience different places around the United States,” he said. 

The opportunity to continue helping the families in his local community is what makes him excited to wake up and go to work each day. 

“You get to know the children, you get to know the families,” he said, adding that it’s fun to watch siblings come through the school system and watch families grow over the years. “What energizes me is the work that you can do for people and for communities. You’ve got to love and have fun and show joy, because you want your kids to have that same love, energy and joy about coming to school.”

While education looks different now than it did years ago — access to electronics is just one of the many changes — what remains constant is the enthusiasm and curiosity children have for the world. 

“They see the future as so bright,” he said. “They’re just so very hopeful for their future. They’re optimistics, so why wouldn’t I be optimistic for them? In the things that kids are doing, even at the elementary school level, it’s just mind blowing. Like the amount of access to practicing coding or in the way that kids are able to explain their mathematical thinking or their reasoning about the world. It’s just so much different than I had as a child.”

Weerts said the best thing K-Staters can do to support the school system in their communities is to be informed about the issues local school districts are facing. There are a lot of big topics being discussed — from funding to school choice — and the more knowledge you have, the better you can discuss these issues in your community. 

“It's really important to be knowledgeable about some of those bigger ticket items,” Weerts said. “And then being informed so that you can make your own decision about what's important.”

Amie Kershner ’01, another K-State grad living in the D.C. metro area, said that Weerts has already made a difference in her own family, and she enjoys sharing purple pride with a fellow Wildcat.

“Mr. Weerts is an unbelievable vice principal for our school,” Kershner said. “We found out that my son has a learning disability at the end of second grade before he moved up to Piney Branch for upper elementary. Mr. Weerts has been part of our team moving through the [planning] process and he has been nothing but a tremendous help and advocate for our family. In addition, he is always at school activities with the enthusiasm that you don't expect from someone who has been an active administrator at a huge elementary school. He leans into spirit weeks and is all of our kids' biggest cheerleader.”

And Weerts plans to keep being an educational cheerleader for as long as he can.

“I see so many kids who are just so energized about wanting to make the world a better place, at such a young age,” he said. “I want to take that energy and just feed it so that they keep going on and doing. They're gonna go and do amazing things.”