Understanding the RCA Experience

Have you ever visited the Ron Clark Academy?  I have followed Mr. Clark's path for a few years and went to a presentation he held in Vegas last summer.  He managed to climb his way through the audience and stand between Erica from Ed-Ventures and myself.  I knew then I had to go to the RCA but had no idea about his magic until I arrived in Atlanta this past weekend.

Arthur Ashe once said, "Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can."  After spending time at the Ron Clark Academy this weekend and listening to Ron's book, The End of Molasses Classes, I feel this statement resonates with me more deeply now than ever. 

If you are not familiar, the Ron Clark Academy is housed in a renovated red brick warehouse located in southeast Atlanta, Georgia and accommodates fifth through eighth grade students.  Mr. Clark had planned to build the school for ten years before construction began. Along with the proceeds of his book The Essential 55, Mr. Clark raised additional funding for the project so that classes could begin for students in the fall of 2007.

"Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson. This quote graces the front door of the RCA and captures the essence and spirit of co-founders Ron Clark and Kim Bearden's dream. As stated on their website, "Together we have blazed many new paths, and we have celebrated as others have joined us in this amazing adventure."

I'm grateful for an unexpected invitation a few weeks ago from my darling friend, Hope King of Second Grade Shenanigans.  She is blessed with the opportunity to work for the academy with her husband, Wade King.  My day was double the fun hanging out with Elizabeth Hall from Kickin' it in Kindergarten. So glad I had a partner in crime.

Our adventures began on Thursday evening with the Ron Clark Academy Musical.  This was my first glimpse at such an astonishing group of young individuals.  The musical was inspired, scripted, and choreographed in only five days.  Students auditioned for roles while other took the lead in directing, choreographing, and writing the music. I'm amazed by the creativity, courage and confidence of these young individuals. 

Friday started with a school wide gathering in the library.  As you enter, a student escorts you inside while you are embraced by nearly all in attendance.  If caught standing alone, even for a split second, you had another young individual engaging in conversation with you.  As we made our way through the masses, we were assembling around a trampoline. How cool is school with a trampoline in a library?

After the meet and greet, we were given a bit of background on the academy as we transitioned into the main building.  The building is breathtaking.  When you walk into the entrance, you can see portraits of the kids lining the walls.  A two story slide is the focal point, centered just beyond the entry.  The hallways and classrooms are decorated with graffiti art by a local artist.  I just love that each teacher is allowed to have their room painted in what inspires them.

Each person that attends elicits a different response.  You could be enchanted, captivated, or inspired by instruction and learning that occurs.  Some might reaffirm that their teaching practices are engaging and far from "Molasses Classes". I was assured my teaching practices are on track.  I know I build excitement for learning with themes.  I take my kids on journeys like my most recent post here entitled  Dinosaur Day

I'm most inspired with how the students at the RCA are divided into four houses:  Altruismo, Isibindi, Reveur, and Amistad.  A house is much like a fraternity, and the members of each house become very close knit.   Each house has its own philosophy and meaning, Altrusimo is Portuguese, which means to give to others; Isibinidi is Zulu and it means courage; Revueur is French and it means to dream; and Amistad is Spanish, which means friendship. The houses work in synergy and with healthy competition.  During the course of the school year, students earn points for their house for citizenship, behavior, academics, and getting caught doing anything well. A running total is maintained and a weekly champion is announced.  The house totals continued throughout the year until a the winning house is selected for the year.  The colors of the house winner are used to decorate the end of the year banquet. 

This day, from start to finish, was magical.  The lessons were inspiring as students and teachers jumped on and off desks. I truly learned what student led means as I watched  a student teacher, only in six grade, perform so proficiently he turned the RCA into a CLUB with the push of a red button!  In a blink, a teacher changed from her work attire to wearing combat boots, fatigues, and a law enforcement top.  The grammar police were on the hunt for teachers with poor usage.  Grammar baskets were set up around the room and we were to find the correct table tent, categorizing the slips. If caught in transit or parked in the wrong location, the teachers were given a ticket.  It was fun and engaging. 

Once teacher observations were complete, we were served a catered lunch with the company of their delightful students continuing to engage us in conversation.  My chair was pulled out and pushed in by the cutest young man in fifth grade.  Elizabeth and I were 100% captivated and told Mr. Clark that we needed a field trip form so that their kiddos could come and visit our schools. 

We transitioned into workshop where we were inspired by the creativity behind the scenes.  How to take back tips and tricks and implement things within our own school.  To complete our day, all teachers were slide certified.  One of many highlights of the day.

This enchanting experience compelled me to spend my entire 6 hour drive home listening to the book, The End of Molasses Classes.  I listened as Mr. Clark read his words starting with his first teaching experience. The defining moments seem to come during his years teaching at schools in Harlem as he witnessed many classrooms that seemed zapped of all energy.  He decided to leave his job as a teacher in Harlem and set out to explore schools in the 50 states to see what made them successful or what the teachers and schools needed to do to bring back the excitement and desire to learn.  It was and still is his belief that as teachers we can inspire our children to greatness by creating exciting and engaging classrooms and schools.  And thus began his quest to find the remarkable teachers and schools that could set examples for all teachers and parents to follow.

Listening to his 101 Extraordinary Solutions from The End of Molasses Classes really helps you understand and embrace his practices through heartfelt stories and experiences that lead you to understand his vision.  This book is divided into two parts, the first half is for teachers and school administrators and the second half is dedicated to helping parents raise children who strive for success.  The book as a whole is meant to show us how we all have to work together, parents, teachers and administrators to bring life back into class.

I couldn't adequately express my excitement for reading his first book, The Essential 55.  You can get a glimpse of what the essentials are about in the Ron Clark Story starring Matthew Perry.  The entire TNT made for TV movie told of Mr. Clark's time in New York City working with the kids.

I'm also thrilled for the opportunity to read Kim Bearden's inspiring book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Have Taught Me!  There will be more exciting news about this treasure this summer.  You will want to order your copy now and trust me, you won't put the book down!

As you can see, I'm obsessed with everything RCA.


Linda said...

Looks like a ton of fun! I'm going to have to check out his new book!

Down the Learning Road

Barbara said...

Sounds like a win-win, Cheryl, because you're already living the life that Ron Clark so passionately desires and inspires! Thank you for your beautiful review; I feel like I was right there with you.

Keep those blessings coming and remember, they always boomerang back!!


The Science School Yard said...

I want to thank you for your post. At times we may forget how important our role really is. I checked to see if our library had these books and they do. Top of my summer reading now. Even this k-5 science teacher can create a spark our school may need.

Renee from the science school yard

Bridget S said...

I have to check out his new book! I loved how you described your experience. I hope to one day visit! It makes me wonder why all schools can't be like the RCA!

Literacy Without Worksheets

Charlotte said...

I have visited the RCA. It is beyond belief!

Gladys said...

What a wonderful experience! I can't wait to get my hands on Kim's book Crash Course. :)

cheryl chandler said...

OMG! I follow your bog, but I was also blessed to be at RCA this past Friday. We had matching white t shirts with our school name and gave Mr . Clark one! MAGICAL is my exact description. Our principal visited four years ago. We have started with dividing our kids into houses. Directly from RCS! I, too feel transformed! Glad we could share!

Mrs. McHaffie said...

I first heard about Ron Clark and the RCA when it first opened and I first began teaching. We watched a whole clip in our beginning of the year faculty meeting showing how to bring life back to the classroom. I have wanted, since that day, to go experience the RCA! So glad you were able to and that you shared your experience! I have both his books and they are on my 'reread' list for the summer, along with Kim's new book!
What inspiring people (including YOU)!

Mrs. Saoud said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I total agree with you :) Love it .

Sarah Young said...

Fabulous post. I am just so excited for you that you got to go and experience the magic!

A Rocky Top Teacher

Mary Lirette said...

What an amazing experience!!!

Mrs. Lirette's Learning Detectives

Karmen Logan said...

Great post. I am an administrator looking to use the house system in my school after hearing about it. Now, I really want to go to RCA even more