Major: Literacy and Language Development
Extracurricular Involvement: Generals Christian Fellowship, Burish Intern at Maury River Middle School, Craft Guild
Off-Campus Experiences: During the summer, I teach an SAT preparation class at West Dallas Community School. I will be studying abroad at Oxford University during 2012-2013.
Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant? I read Ron Clark's first book several years ago and was fascinated by how he challenged the status quo of American education. When I found out he had started his own school that hosted teacher training days, I was determined to find a way to visit it and see for myself how he taught.
How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L? My independent work major, Literacy and Language Development, examines the question of academic achievement in children from diverse backgrounds, such as those at RCA. I have learned much about small-town education through working in the Lexington schools, but visiting RCA gave me the opportunity to observe the structure and pedagogy of an inner-city school.
What has been the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience so far? I expected the school and the instruction to be high-energy, but not this high-energy! I was quickly worn out just watching Mr. Clark teach, and I am impressed that students and teachers alike are able to keep the enthusiasm and learning going all day every day.
Post-Graduation Plans: Immediately after graduation, I plan to gain some experience teaching, probably either early elementary or middle school. After that, I hope to go to graduate school and become a professor.Why did you choose W&L? Small classes, a tight-knit community, professors who care about their students, and a gorgeous location!
We drove to the school behind a white jeep. I read the license plate out loud: "Rêveur." French for dreamer. That's cool, I thought. Then I realized that it was one of the words over the gate of the school, and the name of one of the school's houses. "It must be Mr. Clark!" I exclaimed.
Once the gates opened, we were ushered into the library, where we were greeted by a mob of smiling faces, all singing and cheering for us. The room was packed, but the students managed to make their way to us and took the initiative to strike up conversations with us. They asked where I was from, how I found out about the school, what I taught. (I had to explain that I was still in college, but hoped to be a teacher someday; I was certainly the youngest person attending teacher training.) When I asked what they liked to read, every one of them had a unique, intelligent and well-reasoned answer.
One of the teachers explained a little bit about the school, and then we moved into Mr. Clark's room, where he was teaching a fifth-grade math lesson. Observing him teach was like watching a theater and dance performance. He was almost a blur of movement, spending more time on top of the tables than on the floor. The students also jumped on the tables several times for chants they had memorized. Mr. Clark kept firing questions at the students: "What if I changed this number to that? What if I wanted to square it instead of divide it by five? What if this were a negative--what would the answer be then?" There was hardly ever a quiet moment. Even when one student didn't respond immediately (and Mr. Clark never moved on to another who knew the answer), someone else started a cheer, and the rest soon joined in, giving the first student time to think. We observers sat mesmerized the entire time. But toward the end of the lesson, Mr. Clark hit the Red Button, turning the entire room into a disco party! Even the visitors got to their feet then. We danced together for about thirty seconds, and then returned to our seats, breathless but ready to learn more.
The lesson lasted over an hour. Afterwards, Mr. Clark took us on a tour of the school, explaining its history and organization as he went. Some of my favorite parts of the school:
I'd read about all of these in Mr. Clark's book, The End of Molasses Classes, but to see and even touch them myself gave me chills.
A little later, we had lunch with the students. I spent the time talking to a vivacious fifth-grader, who told me all about the books she likes to read and her plans to be a Rhodes Scholar and study at Oxford. The articulateness and confidence of these students--even after less than a year at the school--is one of the best arguments for Ron Clark Academy's methods.
The rest of the day alternated between workshops with the individual teachers and observing their classes. Though none were quite as magical as Mr. Clark himself, they all shared the same enthusiasm and energy. I particularly enjoyed the workshops on using the blues and rap to teach content, as well as a lecture on the art of questioning. These teachers are clearly thinking about how to get their students both to remember lesson material and to engage with it at the highest levels possible. I look forward to incorporating many of their methods when I return to Lexington's schools, and as a teacher myself after graduation.
At the end of the day, my head was spinning with all that I had seen and heard, but one excitement still waited. We had to become "slide certified." In the center of the school lobby is a giant, twisting, electric-blue slide. I had been looking forward to going down it since I first read about it months ago, and it was well worth the wait! As I spun around and slid out into a smiling, cheering crowd, I marvelled at how happy students and faculty were to be working, learning and living together.