The Ron Clark Academy – Part 2
In Part 1 I described a lesson I observed at the Ron Clark Academy. It was a site to behold!
In this post I will describe the school in more detail.
The school is deliberately located on the rough side of town, in a building that was formerly a rope factory. I believe there was also a brothel on site. They’ve purchased other nearby buildings with the intention of using them in the future.
On the front gate is huge metal lettering spelling out 7 key words, each from a different continent. I can’t remember what the words are. One was “reveur” – French for dreamer. Students visit a continent each year.
The foyer is an open space with stairs up to the second floor and a big blue slide that curls its way down. The big blue slide stands out enormously and really is the signature of the building. Students and teachers use the slide as they wish.
All the walls are covered by amazing graffiti paintings by the world famous graffiti artist “Totem” (http://www.mr-totem.com/totem2.html). They found out that Totem lived nearby and he agreed enthusiastically to do the art. Every room has rich murals by him. The entire school is like an art gallery!
Along with the big slide, the artwork establishes an immediate creative atmosphere in the school. None of the oppressive plain walls with square paintings that many schools have, which communicate the importance of order and conformity.
The bathrooms also have the beautiful graffiti, and much more besides – decorated mirrors, a dinosaur stuck on the wall.
Here are some photos:
The boys' toilet with a dinosaur.
The girls' toilet.
I remember hearing that when students at most schools are surveyed about what they would like to improve at their school, they very often put “clean bathrooms” at #1. What a powerful message students receive about themselves when the toilets are sparse, plain and dirty! Dirty because some students make them dirty, but then that feeds back onto itself. Dirty toilets will get dirtier, and it is demeaning for students, utterly undermining messages teachers are trying to send about conducting themselves with dignity.
If a school’s toilets are really nice and looked after, the students will look after them too, and their sense of dignity and worth will be powerfully established.
Each room is themed and generally reflects what topics are being studied. Here are some examples:
This room has a maze of tiny rooms separated by locked doors, around a central room blocked off with one way glass. They put problems in each room. When the student has solved the problem a key is dropped into the room so they can go to the next one.
Student work is posted around the place. One noticeable example is a set of newspapers written by the students and featuring the students’ photos on them.
There is a huge spinning wheel in the front foyer split into quarters representing the four houses. Each is a named with a word from a foreign language – one of the words on the front gate of the school. Students are assigned a house by spinning the wheel when they join the school, in a ritual similar to the choosing hat in Harry Potter.
The teachers all have a brilliant track record and many of them have a string of awards behind them. Their appointment to the RCA was via a video submission and comprehensive interviews etc.
The staff work very long hours, and are wholeheartedly committed. They get involved with the students’ personal lives, visiting the students’ homes, regularly taking the student out to places, for example to the theatre or hosting them in groups at their own homes for dinner.
The founder Ron Clark and cofounder Kim Bearden both teach full time, all day, as well as running the school. They work very very long days.
After School Program
Students have a choice of a very wide variety of afternoon activities after school run by the teachers and by local parents and volunteers. These change from term to term and cover every topic imaginable, and are often practical in nature.
Students visit 6 of the 7 continents by the end of their 3 years at RCA. This is funded by sponsorships and is integrated with intense study in preparation for the trip.
Student have homework each night which they must complete.
Parents are required to support them as a prerequisite to enrolment. They have regular lessons for parents, for instance teaching them Mathematical techniques and rules, so that parents can help their child at home. These are very well attended (jam packed!).
Parents commit themselves to being actively involved in the school and supporting learning at home.
I shall conclude with my thoughts on what I saw in part 3.