Kim Bearden: The Ron Clark Academy | American Graduate Champions | PBA30

Student Movement Vital For Success Says Ron Clark Academy Founder

by Shelby Lin Erdman • OCT 13, 2015

Video produced by Gordon Ray

Kim Bearden leads a group of students at the Ron Clark Academy in an African song and tribal dance. The students sway at their desks, clap their hands and chant as several students bang out a beat on the bongo drums and others jump up to dance.  

It’s not a typical scene in a middle school setting, even if it is the non-profit, non-traditional academy on Atlanta’s southeast side, but then again Bearden is not a typical top education official in most senses of the word.

No child should ever be allowed to be invisible in a classroom.

She is the co-founder and executive director of the Ron Clark Academy, “but most importantly I’m an English teacher here,” Bearden told PBA’s American Graduate over the summer.

“I teach 5th and 6th grade language arts every day at my school.”

That is also not a typical role for the top administrator at most American public schools.

Champion-1.png “I am absolutely committed to making learning a fun experience for my students. Every day isn’t parties and games, but every moment should be one that’s filled with joy and passion for what we’re doing,” Bearden explained.

The Academy’s mission is “educating students with academic rigor, passion, and creativity balanced by a strict code of discipline,” according to its website.

It has also received both national and international awards for its success. And Bearden is undoubtedly part of that success.

And she has a strategy. “In order to make learning fun, I use lots of movement. I use lots of energy, song, dance. Whether it is that they’re jumping on their desks and singing chants that have to do with the grammar I’m teaching or even if they’re collaborating in groups and interacting with one another, the idea of student engagement is vital for every classroom to succeed,” she said.After hundreds of interviews, the Academy selected its first class of 60 children in March of 2007: 32 6th grade students and 28 5th graders made up the inaugural class.

amgrad_logo.jpg  “Since that day, we have become a true family. We have challenged, motivated, disciplined, and inspired these students, and we have grown to love them for their amazing gifts and unique abilities,” the school said.

Excellent teachers are also part of Bearden’s education strategy for success. “Does that teacher see the child? Does that teacher reach out to the child? Is the teacher willing to go above and beyond?” 

Bearden said in the end the school’s success is based on a very simple principle.

“Every student should be engaged in the learning process. So no child should ever be allowed to be invisible in a classroom. The relationship that we build with these students, that is the number one reason that we have the success with them that we do.”


PBA's Atlanta Champions


Scott Allen

"He is such a dedicated teacher who says that he is awed by his students’ creativity and original thought."


Mouhammed Bah

"I think education brings more wealth to being successful than any other thing in life."


Travis Brown

"He just does everything he can to insure that when a student comes in his class he’s removed all barriers so that they can truly learn."


Atia Butts

"You always want to have the mindset of succeeding and if you know the people around you are not going down that path then do your best to be nice, be cordial, but distance yourself from those".

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Kim Bearden

"No child should ever be allowed to be invisible in a classroom."

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Barry Blackmon

"I use a lot of different methods and try to mix my own type of gumbo within the classroom, such as discipline and humor."


Meria Carstarphen

"We really want parents to help us get children in school, on time, every single day and that starts with getting up and making sure they can get out of the house on time, into the bus or walking to school."

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Ron Clark

"We’re trying to lift the spirits of our students so they’ll be excited and they’ll be eager to learn."


Megan Gilroy

"Health can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery exercise in this terrible thing."


Dave Howland

"Literally every single grade a kid gets in high school has an impact on their future trajectory. So making sure that that’s a big piece, helps them stay on track to graduate."


Kesha Payne

"Every decision you make, keep students first. I say communicate clearly with parents and administrators. I say collaborate effectively with your colleagues and keep students top of mind."


Immanuel Reed

"When I was a kid, being a part of a program like this helped me tremendously, and I think that me doing the same thing for others, giving them chances, giving them the opportunity to make the best decisions, it’s full circle for me."


Dan Sims

"The hope is in the school house and we hold a primary place in inspiring kids to look beyond this time frame."


Amber Stewart

"The success of a student hinges on the teacher that’s standing in front of that classroom and hinges on the school leader that’s running that school."


Darryl Terry

"As a student in one of the most impoverished areas of Atlanta, I’ve always known that education is going to be my only way out."


Stuart Thorn

"We’ve been able to take the graduation rate for this cohort of kids up from probably what would have been in the neighborhood of five to 15 percent up to now above 85 percent."


Dennis Tolliver

"He captures his students’ attention and they hold on to every word that he says because they know what he gives will truly benefit their lives."

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Jayongela Wilder

"There is nothing more rewarding then seeing a kid that you taught graduate from college."