Kim Bearden on Teaching with Hip Hop and Pop Culture
Best Selling Author, Co-founder at Ron Clark Academy, and National Teacher Hall of Fame; Organization Culture/Climate and Communication Specialist
Kim Bearden, who co-founded the Ron Clark Academy with its namesake, was recently featured in Georgia Magazine. The Atlanta-based school has gained national recognition as one of the world's most innovative and motivational educational programs.
Read part of the article below.
“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
Inner Circle’s reggae song “Bad Boys” blares while a flashing blue light whirls around and around. The woman standing at the front of the room is wearing all black—black cap, black shirt and black pants tucked into black boots. She’s got a whistle around her neck, and her shirt and cap identify her as Police. But this is not a scene from the Fox television show “Cops.” This is Kim Bearden’s fifth-grade classroom. Her students are training to be Grammar Police, with a mission “to serve and correct.”
“What’s it called if I have two things that could be sentences, two independent clauses, and I smush them together, but I only fix it with a comma?” Bearden (BSEd ’87) asks.
“A comma splice!” the class answers.
“It’s called a comma splice, and those are evil and bad and horrible,” she replies.
On the edges of the classroom are about 40 teachers—some from Georgia, others from as far away as Indiana—observing Bearden and her students on this Friday in March. During the next hour they watch as Bearden acts like a traffic cop, using her whistle to lead an exercise that substitutes hand signals for punctuation marks. Three times the class breaks into song, reviewing grammatical concepts like verb conjugations, prepositions and linking verbs using lyrics that Bearden wrote and adapted to popular songs (the song on linking verbs is set to the tune of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” for example). Frequently the students get out of their seats, stomping, hand signaling and dancing. It may seem unusual, but this is pretty much an average day at the Ron Clark Academy, where creativity is not just encouraged—it’s expected.
“Obama on the left, McCain on the right. We can talk politics all night, and you can vote however you like. I said, you can vote however you like.”
In February, 20-plus students from the Ron Clark Academy performed on stage at UGA’s Hodgson Hall. Dressed in navy sweaters, neckties and khaki pants or skirts, they danced while singing the song they wrote—set to the beat and melody of rapper T.I.’s “Whatever You Like”—during the 2008 presidential campaign. After a video of their song was posted on youtube.com, the students got lots of attention: 15 million hits from around the world, visits from CNN, and appearances on “Good Morning America,” the “Today” show and “ABC World News Tonight.” But they also got negative feedback, including racial slurs, from comments posted by thousands of YouTube users. How they handled the situation was part of Ron Clark’s message, and Bearden—co-founder and executive director of the Ron Clark Academy—came to help him deliver it.
Clark gave UGA’s 25th annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture, a series established to honor Dr. Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first black students to enroll at UGA. Clark and Bearden brought the students to demonstrate how they use music and creativity to teach and to share the story of how their students are dealing with issues of race while in the public spotlight. Watching the students smile while performing, it’s difficult to believe that they could inspire negativity in anyone. It’s also difficult to believe that the Ron Clark Academy that produced these students was, 10 short years ago, just a dream shared by two friends.
For the entire article, visit Georgia Magazine online.
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