Arriving students were greeted by a DJ, himself an eighth grade student, spinning popular music to kickoff Ottawa Elementary's 'Rock the School' day held last Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Arriving students were greeted by a DJ, himself an eighth grade student, spinning popular music to kickoff Ottawa Elementary's 'Rock the School' day held last Wednesday, Jan. 23. (Photo submitted)

OTTAWA — The Ron Clark Academy is a school in Atlanta, Georgia which Oprah Winfrey referred to as, “The best school in America,” when she addressed its 2010 graduating class. Founded in 2007, the school, as designed, promotes educational best practices, not only within its own classrooms, but in countless others across the country —- including right here in Ottawa.

Ten staff members from Ottawa Elementary visited the academy last May. An opportunity funded through several community donors: businesses, organizations, and an individual, according to Ottawa Elementary Principal Audrey Beining.

“That trip really kind of lit a fire under a lot of our staff members here,” Beining told the Sentinel last August. “We’ve been working all summer on different ideas that we’re going to implement this year.”

One of those ideas came to fruition at the school last Wednesday, Jan. 23, which Ottawa Elementary declared ‘Rock Your School’ day.

“One of the teachers [at Ron Clark] has an online group that some of our teachers follow through social media,” Beining said in a conversation held on Tuesday. “And, back in the fall, they said, ‘We’re going to have Rock Your School Day.’ It was a national thing that this one teacher put out there. Not necessarily to schools, but to just the teachers.”

“Well, we kind of caught wind of it. Some of the teachers here said, ‘We should do that.’ Next thing we know, it became a school-wide thing.”

“I had originally challenged each teacher do one outside-the-box lesson that day. It was awesome. We have shared planning forms through Google Docs, and all of these idea came about school-wide. We decided to do one theme then, one cohesive theme throughout the whole school. On that day, we did a football theme, and had engaging lessons around that theme.”

“And then, the staff said, ‘We should do this again,’ ” Beining continued. “They had a lot of fun, and the students had a lot of fun. It was really cool to see the students being so excited about coming to school, learning, and being involved in those lessons.”

“So, we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it again.’ ”

“It was decided, as a group, that we would do music this time. And, we just kind of stuck with ‘Rock Your School’ day. Because that’s what it was called originally.”

The themed days are meant to be fun, to give students something to get excited over, just for showing up to school. But, this is no ‘fun day.’ It does not replace learning, but contributes to it.

“The focus has to be, still, on the lessons, the content, the standards,” Beining says, “But, with a little fun twist on it. We had all of our same classes, they just had a little magical twist on them.”

“The teachers, because of what we witnessed at Ron Clarke, have really been trying to do more type of things like this in their classrooms too. Wanting kids to feel like they want to come to school. To be more engaged, and inevitably put forth more effort. And then, when they’re doing that, they’re getting more out of their lessons too.”

“We have a visual reminder, a balance, a scale, that we really refer to. All of the teachers have it posted it in their classrooms as a visual reminder for themselves. On one side of it is, ‘structure, discipline, and respect,’ and then on the other side of the balance is, ‘Creativity, passion, and enthusiasm.’ Our goal is to create that balance this year, and then the academic rigor should follow.”