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.
“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.
“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.”
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