The Ron Clark Academy (RCA) hosted 10 Belmont Academy teachers and principal, alongside 600 other top educators from across the country on Monday, May 20th and 21st in Atlanta, Georgia, adding to the 50,000 educators who have visited the academy since it opened in 1997.
At RCA, teachers deliver captivating instruction that works. High performing charter school, Belmont Academy, got to observe the methods that RCA is using to change the face of education and inspire students. At RCA, teachers stand on desks when teaching, let students work to the beat of popular music, and incorporate choreographed body movements to help remember certain concepts through “muscle memory.” Advanced students take initiative and lead lessons as the teacher. Students conduct themselves with military precision and unity. They display the highest levels of discipline, commitment, and respect for peers, teachers, and guests. Their intensity of focus and precision of action is equaled by the happiness and joy they show on their faces when learning.
With such high level of discipline in this setting, why is there so much joy in learning? This is what schools from all over the country, including Belmont Academy, are coming to see. RCA has a “House System” that reinforces positive actions and outcomes. Disrespect is not tolerated to any degree. This creates a positive learning environment, where all students feel safe and secure, and understand that sometimes failure is part of journey to victory. At RCA, students who succeed are rewarded with praise. Students who struggle are met with encouragement, support and cheers from their peers. Attitude is everything at RCA and teachers are the models.
Ron Clark said, “If you ain’t gonna smile, the kids ain’t gonna smile. Just smile and be happy. You got to walk down the hall anyway. If your lesson fails, the most important thing you can do is smile. When I would be negative, everyone around me would be negative. I have to find a way to be happy. The most important thing you can do as a teacher is be in a good mood. Keep smiling and looking in their eyes until you find someone who smiles back. It will feed your energy.”
This high level of positive energy had a career changing impact on the teachers at Belmont Academy Charter School. Belmont achieved a top four percent ranking in Florida last year on the FSA and is constantly seeking innovative ways to outperform its personal best. One such method was to send 11 educators to RCA this year. They included Principal Ron Barker, and teachers Brian Wright, Maria Randall, Apryll Tillotson, Larana Wingate, Isaac Selva, Sara Hernandez, Kelly Infantino, Ashley Bean, Dawn Carboni, and Amon Rolerson.
The feeling of inspiration you get from the academy begins by seeing it from afar for the first time. RCA is painted on the inside and outside to look like a castle, resembling Harry Potter’s, Hogwarts Academy. This has a dramatic first impact on students and teachers who visit, including Belmont teacher, Sara Hernandez.
“The Ron Clark Academy felt like a fairy tale. The rooms were exquisitely decorated in different themes. The students were so well behaved and seemed like they loved coming to school. There was a real sense of community among the students,” said Hernandez
The type of magic you feel when walking into RCA is from more than just its appearance. It’s the people all around you who make you feel uplifted and excited to try something new. Upon entering for the first time, you are greeted to the sound of upbeat music, cheering students, and a knowing and friendly handshake from Ron Clark himself. The magic in the classroom is the same and was felt by Belmont teacher, Ashley Bean.
“RCA staff talk about finding magic and being the wild card in your own class. I want my students to feel magic, love, drive, and dedication, when they see me and are in my classroom,” said Bean.
Students at RCA like the challenge, because the academic rigor is high and top performing students don’t get the bored feeling they experienced at previous schools. Teaching to the top was noticed by Belmont teacher, Kelly Infantino.
“I have learned that academic rigor paired with engagement, and good old fashioned soft skills, is key to success in the classroom,” said Infantino.
Ron Clark encourages teachers who visit to be a part of the “revolution” in teaching. After recognizing students skyrocketing academic gains and seeing the joy in learning among his students, it’s hard not to be a follower. All eleven educators from Belmont admired and are excited about implementing the strategies discovered at RCA. Finding new ways to motivate the 21st century student is an exciting part of teaching at Belmont Academy. These sentiments are felt by Belmont teacher, Apryll Tillotson.
“This experience renewed my ‘joy’ for teaching. It reminded me to focus on the learning styles of my students and use strategies to reach the 21st century learner. The experience motivated me to think outside of the box with my teaching style and get my students moving! I also believe the training gave me the confidence to challenge our students to do more than they thought they could in social skills to propel them to the level needed for the work force! I can't wait to implement the innovative techniques in my classroom,” said Tillotson.
Principal Ron Barker expressed that the engaging and exciting strategies observed at RCA will be taken back to Belmont Academy and incorporated into lessons in the upcoming 2019-2020 school year, creating even more enjoyment for learning at this charter school.
“I am so glad that ten of our teachers and myself had the opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy. I know this experience will help us continue to take steps forward in creating an environment at our school where our students can be successful and enjoy learning.”