There’s nothing better than a wish come true. After years of wishing to meet and learn from inspiring educator and author Ron Clark, two Tempe Elementary School District teachers were able to attend an educator training at the nationally-recognized Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, Georgia thanks to community support of their wish on Donorschoose.org.
Second-Grade Teachers Lisa Gilliland and Sommer Martinez, of Carminati Elementary and Frank Elementary respectively, first became interested in Ron Clark’s teaching methods when they read his book The Essential 55 when they were student teachers.
“In the years after, I watched the movie made about him, followed his school and teachers on social media, and purchased his next two books,” said Martinez. “A little much, I know, but I am a Ron Clark follower for life!”
After seeing him speak live at Tempe Elementary’s Back-to-School Rally for the 2016-2017 school year, both teachers made the mission to make it to RCA to receive the educational training they heard so much about!
Gilliland distinctly remembers telling her principal, Wendy Reeck, that she would go to RCA this year, no matter what. Reeck replied simply with, “Make it happen.” Gilliland took those words and ran with it. Gilliland and Martinez posted their project for a funded trip to RCA on Donorschoose.org in November. By the time school was excused for winter break, the project was fully funded.
“I remember doing a happy dance around my classroom and calling everyone I could because I was so excited,” said Gilliland. “I am so glad I ‘made it happen’, because that is exactly the type of mindset Ron Clark teaches at his academy.”
On Friday, April 21, Gilliland and Martinez attended a one-day educator training. The minute they walked through the doors, they knew they were in for the one-of-a-kind experience they had read and heard so much about.
“The experience is still so hard to put into words,” said Martinez. “It was inspiring, exciting, engaging, energizing, eye-opening, and magical.”
Gilliland and Martinez were enthusiastically welcomed to the school with music, dancing, and smiles from RCA staff and students. They were then split into smaller groups and rotated around workshops and classroom visits throughout the day. The workshops they attended were presented by co-founders Kim Bearden, Ron Clark, and Hope King. These educators presented on topics important to them and shared special engagement activities, like games and songs, which can be easily implemented into their classrooms. Visiting educators were also able to interact with RCA students.
“The students and teachers created such strong relationships that all stemmed from respect,” said Gilliland. “The teachers cared about student’s homes, their families, and their passions. The amount of love all around was felt. It truly created a one-of-a-kind environment.”
At the end of the day, all visiting educators excitedly lined up to go down RCA’s famous blue slide. The swirling slide starts at the second story and makes its way down the the entrance of the main building, commencing educators as “Slide Certified.” The excitement and energy exhibited by everyone at RCA, accompanied by music and dancing, is a central component to the engaging school environment that both Gilliland and Martinez admire.
“I came back from RCA full of energy and excited to do it all!” said Gilliland. “I immediately started implementing Ron Clark’s teaching techniques of playing more music, standing on tables, and talking with my hands.”
“The most useful teaching tool I learned at RCA is if you can get the students engaged, you can teach them anything,” Martinez added. “Be different from the norm and step out of your comfort zone!”
Both teachers are still reflecting on their experience and excited to implement even more RCA teaching techniques into their classroom for next year. Thanks to support on Donorschoose.org, this educational opportunity was made possible.
“Ron Clark Academy was by far the most magical experience,” said Gilliland. “The school, teachers, and students were all amazing individuals. The environment that Ron Clark created is out of this world! It truly was an honor to visit!”