Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Last week, I tagged along with a Leadership Atlanta group, and visited the Ron Clark Academy, a school that opened last fall in southeast Atlanta. It’s named for the 2000 Disney American Teacher Award Winner and the lead figure in the 2006 TNT movie “The Ron Clark Story, ” who is also the co-founder.

The private, not for profit, middle school is located in an area of town that is better known for illegal after-hours activity. Currently there are 60 students enrolled in 5th and 6th grades. The school is an old renovated brick building. The interior walls and floors are covered with bright colors. The lobby includes the landing pad of a spiral slide that provides a quick way down from the second floor for students, teachers and visitors (yes, I slid down).

The students are well behaved; they look me in the eye, shake my hand and introduce themselves. They respond to my questions with “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am.” The school’s high level of discipline is the result of what Clark terms the “Essential 55,” guidelines for living and interacting with others that appear in the lobby of the school. Kim Bearden, our tour guide and co-founder of the academy, explains to us that the discipline provides the framework for the creative and fun environment in the academy.

Touring the first floor, we can hear and feel a loud beat coming from above our heads, it makes me wonder what is going on in the class. First floor includes a Delta classroom (as in Delta Airlines), complete with ticket counter, and “The Gauntlet,” a room where students take tests, many of which are hands-on activities.

At one end of the second-story hall is a library, with a fireplace on one side, a couch on the other and a bookcase along the back. In a building that is otherwise filled with color and light, the dark colors and old-fashioned style appear to be remnants of a different period.

When Kim presses a button, the bookcase slides apart and we enter Clark’s classroom. It’s reminiscent of one of Clark’s favorite childhood memories in the cartoon Scooby Doo.

The students and Clark are singing and stomping to a math song, with Clark and many of the students standing on top of their desks. This explains the noise from earlier. Once the song is done, the students sit down and the class continues.

A math problem is introduced, determine the cost of visiting Coney Island: riding the Ferris wheel, buying drinks and hotdogs (with and without cheese). Discounts to the food only. The problem is laid out on the board, and each student begins working independently to solve the problem.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.