'Cool' tradition coming to an end as Biloxi PE teacher retires

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It is the end of an era for one Biloxi elementary school. A long-time PE teacher is retiring at the end of the month. And when he leaves, so will a popular tradition he started at the school three decades ago. Thousands of students consider him the "coolest" teacher around.

For many years, William Harper has been handing out Kool Pops to his students at Popp's Ferry Elementary School.

"It's just a small thing. It's not a lot of liquid to it, not a lot of sugar to it, but it's very refreshing," said Harper.

Now, that cool tradition is coming to an end.  Mr. Harper, who started his career as a PE teacher at Popp's Ferry 37-years ago, is retiring.

"I'm going to miss the activities, the laughter, the hugs, the love. I will miss it all," said Harper.

And he will certainly miss giving the good students the Kool Pops.  It all started when Mr. Harper wanted to reward students for bringing in aluminum cans for recycling.

"We raised a lot of money, bought a lot of equipment here at this school with that money. Plus, we were promoting recycling. Kids would pick up cans along the street, and mothers and fathers would bring them in. It became a fun thing," said Harper.

Then, he started giving the Kool Pops to students who were caught performing random acts of kindness.  He said because of that, he has never had to deal with a disciplinary problem.

"I don't use a whistle. Kids stop and listen when I ask them to," said Harper.

Thousands of students have received the icy delights over the years. On Friday, some of his former students dropped by the school to get their last Kool Pops from Mr. Harper.

"We love him. He's awesome! I miss him," said one young lady.

"He's not only been a great teacher, he's great family friend. He's a huge influence, I feel, in all the students' lives, including mine," said Lauren Rackley, a former student who is now a junior in college.

Mr. Harper never realized that such a small treat would create so many fond memories.

"I was just thinking of something that kids can appreciate. That small treat to them is something special to them," said Harper.

"I did it as finding something to get kids to do the right thing. That was it," he added. "It tells you it's been worthwhile. It's been a job that's been worthwhile. It's made a difference in kids' lives and now young adults' lives."

Mr. Harper also gave out Kool Pops at Biloxi High, where he was the school's cross country coach for six years.

"He was really different from any other coach that I've had. Every other Friday, when it was blazing hot, a really hard practice, he would bring these Kool Pops. We always worked hard at practice when we knew there was the ice chest cooler full of Kool Pops," said Kaitlyn Andrews, a former Biloxi High student.

The last day of school for Biloxi is next Friday, and Mr. Harper will continue to give out the Kool Pops until they are all gone.

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