Dancing, singing and doing their thing! Springfield elementary school uses unique teaching model to improve academics

Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 6:40 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 24, 2022 at 6:41 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - At Cowden Elementary School just off Battlefield Road they teach the same curriculum as the other Springfield schools.

Just in a very different way.

Enter the building and you’ll see lots of decorations, flashing lights and teachers using headset microphones in exhorting their students to stand up in their seats, yell, sing or walk on a runway stage to come to the front of the class and take over teaching duties.

It’s high energy, fun to watch and perfect for school kids who have short attention spans.

That would be all of them, right?

Each class and teacher has its own unique style of captivating students’ attention but don’t be taken aback when you see the P.E. instructor wearing a blue afro wig or students banging on bongo drums or dancing through the floating bubbles produced by a bubble machine.

It’s an innovative teaching method that comes from the Ron Clark Academy, a non-profit middle school in Atlanta that’s gained international fame, been featured on several national TV programs and supported by people like Oprah Winfrey.

Representatives from the Ron Clark Academy were at Cowden on Monday to get video of the school’s implementation of the system and take it back to share with others.

“Over 100,000 educators from around the world have come to what was once this old warehouse in Atlanta to learn the methods and techniques we have put together by working with schools,” said Kim Bearden, co-founder of RCA. “We show teachers how to build classrooms where there’s a lot of movement, music and high levels of student engagement. We also focus on academic excellence and how you create a climate and culture where students love to learn. In this school they’ve done an exemplary job of doing just that where students are standing up to speak, giving eye contact, cheering for each other and supporting one another. It really helps create a sense of family and belonging so every single child feels like they have a place to call home.”

And the students seem to love the freedom.

“Everybody’s loud and I like loud,” said second grade student Carson Childers. “I used to struggle a lot but now I don’t.”

“It’s a lot of fun because we get to dance and we get to have chants,” said second grader Lyrik Cheseng.

“It’s more developmentally appropriate for children to move and giggle and wiggle and talk,” said second grade teacher Mary Tilton. “We can’t expect children to sit there at a desk for 7.25 hours and not move. What we do now may seem silly but the kids absolutely love it and it’s the best way we have to insure they are constantly focused and learning. For example when they get to walk up on the stage, that is one of their favorite moments because when they’re on stage they are the teacher and get to take over the class. They take that seriously.”

“Research shows that students need anywhere from 70-90 minutes of physical activity per-day,” added Bearden. “And they don’t just need it for their physical development but for their brain development as well. So by getting the students to move and be active they’re actually able to learn at a much deeper level. There’s been so much learning loss across the country during COVID and a lot of it was because kids were stagnant, they were sitting in front of a computer and they weren’t able to do the kinds of things they now can do during the school day here.”

And while teachers have to spend a lot of time planning their daily presentations that seem more like putting on a live stage show, Tilton said it’s worth it.

“When I taught in a traditional setting there were days when my alarm clock would go off and I’d keep hitting snooze,” she admitted. “Sometimes it was a chore to teach. But now it’s so refreshing to have students who aren’t challenging you because they’re bored. They’re always engaged and always excited. Teachers are leaving in droves because of all the challenging behaviors. But when you have students up and moving, it’s just a whole new level of awesomeness. Not only did it impact me as a teacher but also as a person.”

“We are at a time in this country when we really have a crisis in education because we’re losing teachers every day,” added Bearden. “We want to show teachers that school can be a place they look forward to coming to every day as well.”

It was Cowden Elementary Principal Cherie Norman who brought the RCA teaching method to Springfield four years ago after hearing Ron Clark speak at a convention in Chicago.

At the time Cowden was next-to-last in academic rankings among SPS elementary schools.

“That hurt,” Norman said. “I knew our school was better than that. But after I went to the academy in Atlanta and was greeted by dance and music and laughter, I realized that all children deserve to be educated that way. Since we started this the children are happy and learning at a rate we’ve never seen before. By last year we were ranked number one in reading, math and growth in the entire district.”

Norman, who’s in her 30th year of education, says she’s never been as excited about her profession as she is now.

“I cry more now than I ever have,” she admitted. “I taught for 16 years and there have been many touching moments. But now those moments are bigger and more heartfelt. There are a lot of tears in this building but they are tears of joy.”

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