WALTERS, OK (KSWO) –Walters Public Schools is trying something new to educate their youngest minds.
Nowadays in Lisa Dodd's first grade class in Walters, she and the students are taking a more "active" approach to education. She, along with other teachers and the superintendent, recently traveled to Atlanta to meet Ron Clark.
Clark's a former national Teacher of the Year, featured guest on Oprah and subject of a television movie about his approach to education through music and dancing. His success in Harlem helped him form the Ron Clark Academy, which not only excels in teaching basic subjects, but also manners and respect.
After years of seeing what was happening at the Ron Clark Academy on TV and online, Walters schools used expiring Title I and II money to get a firsthand look.
"They had music blaring, there was a trampoline in the middle of the library with bungee cords on it. Teachers were bouncing up and downs, kids were singing and dancing," said Jimmie Dedmon, Walters Public Schools superintendent.
There was just passion, you could feel the energy," said teacher 1
And it started at the front door…
"These are fifth through eighth graders who are coming out greeting adults they never met before and carrying on adult conversations," Dedmon said.
That's part of the foundation of the academy; 55 essential lessons the students live by.
"Some of the things are simple as when you speak to someone, look them in the eyes, firm handshake if you're going to praise one of your classmates with applause, you need to do it for a minimum of three seconds," Jimmie Dedmon said.
"It's teaching kids manners and respect and that's something that's really important," said Marla Doye, Title I coordinator.
So important kids in Walters are now learning the rules through fun ways they can connect to through songs, chants and dancing.
"They're up, they're talking to each other, they're working with their classmates," Krystal Dedmon, third grade teacher, said.
"It makes them not sit there and just look at the walls," Doye said.
Dodd never dreamed about letting her first graders do this.
"Never, never, but it has been wonderful," Dodd said.
The same techniques and essentials also apply to regular classroom subjects like reading, math and science.
"Anytime I can call a chant, they can get up and stand in their chair they think that is fabulous. They want to stand on their desk, but I won't let them," Krystal Dedmon said.
So, they're having fun, but the challenge is still real. They don't get off the hook without some critical thinking about their lessons.
"We make them continue their thinking and they have to explain it. If they get it wrong, it's okay. One of my students will say 'I disagree with you' or 'I think that's good thinking, but and they have to explain their thinking, so they're definitely working," Krystal Dedmon said.
In just a few short weeks since implementing the approach, the students and parents are responding.
"There's some positive feedback coming from it," Jimmie Dedmon said.
"It said i don't know what you did today, but it's all my son my son could talk about was how excited about whatever it is you guys did today," Krystal Dedmon said.
"Your kids want to be at school, they're excited to be at school they're probably going to do better in the classroom," Jimmie Dedmon said.
Teachers like it too.
"I'm one of those teachers. I love to dance, I love to get loud, so it's been really fun for me," Dodd said.
Over the summer, Walters Public Schools will look at more ways to use Ron Clark's approach. It's hard to argue with the results at his school in Atlanta. His middle school student are in the 93rd percentile for reading and 97th percentile in math.
One idea Walters is looking at is putting students, from young to old, in groups. The youth look up to the older kids, and they in turn will serve as mentors and role models. They'll work together on the 55 essentials and be honored for their achievements together.