Speaker gets Franklin Co. teachers fired up

August 26, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- At times, it resembled a religious revival.

Ron Clark would stand on chairs, yell, sing and encourage his 2,000 audience members to cheer loudly.

Especially considering his 8 a.m. time slot, it was an impressive, high-energy display by Clark, whose intent was to re-energize educators about teaching.

The effort seemed to work. Teachers from several counties lined up in the hallway to shake Clark's hand, get an autograph in the two books he's written, take a picture or just talk.

"It's pretty much what we all believe, putting the focus on the kids," said Lois Weaverling, a retired kindergarten teacher from Chambersburg Area School District.


Weaverling, who taught for 34 years, approached Clark for a hug and tears filled her eyes. She thanked him for the topics covered in her well-worn copies of his books.

"I quoted him every single day," Weaverling said. "I can tell what pages the quotes are on."

Chambersburg Area Senior High School's new gymnasium hosted the presentation Wednesday. The event, followed by a comedy act, served as an inservice training day for all Franklin County teachers.

When word got out that Clark was coming, Chambersburg administrators started receiving calls from other teachers and administrators who wanted to attend. They welcomed staff members from Washington County in Maryland as well as Adams County, York County and the Harrisburg area.

Clark taught in North Carolina and Harlem, N.Y., before starting the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. He was named Disney's American Teacher of the Year in 2000. He and his writings received accolades from Oprah Winfrey and served as the basis of a film starring Matthew Perry.

His classes have been honored at the White House three times, including a trip to perform a song they wrote for President Obama's inauguration.

On the recent first day of school at the Ron Clark Academy, students were handed roller skates on their arrival and told to skate around the parking lots during a celebration.

"We do everything big and exciting," Clark said. "We try to set the tone at the beginning to get the kids fired up."

Clark told teachers how he incorporates the latest interests of students into his classroom. That could involve video games, Twitter, or rewritten lyrics to Beyoncé or Rihanna songs.

Many of his examples involved an initial idea from Clark that students themselves expanded, such as one experiment that started with a local newspaper classified ad and ended with involvement by USA Today, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Michael Jordan.

Fannett-Metal School District Librarian Beth McGuire said Clark's stories prompted her to think more about how to include students' interests in school.

"I think it's about bringing energy into the classroom," said Eleanor Arbaiza, a teacher at Fannett-Metal's middle and high schools.

Greg Shuman and Faye Haas from Waynesboro Area Middle School said they appreciated Clark's comments about making sure students are more physically active in the classroom.

"I liked his enthusiasm," said Shuman, a science teacher who was thankful for Clark's mention of how difficult science can be to teach.

"He gets you pumped up," said Chambersburg Area Senior High School Principal Barry Purvis, who heard Clark speak three years ago.

Clark said his speaking engagements and merchandise sales support scholarships at the Ron Clark Academy, which has 100 children enrolled.

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