By Rehema Ellis, NBC News correspondent
He raps, he dances, and he goes headfirst down the two-story tubular slide in the school's atrium. He's not a student; he's Ron Clark, co-founder, head master, and math teacher of the new non-profit, private middle school in Atlanta that bears his name. We profile him tonight on NBC Nightly News because he's a teacher who's making a difference in kids' lives-- most of whom are African-American, some of them with troubled backgrounds.
The thing that I found so wonderful about this new school is not just that Clark has a high-energy, even wacky approach to education but that he's brought together so many like-minded people to help him realize his goal. There are the generous donors whose support is critical to keep this non-profit enterprise going. And, of course there are the teachers. With their help Clark is restructuring the educational model so that it's more in tune with what's happening in today's world.
I'm not just talking about the high-tech hardware that graces this school and gives it a twenty-first century look. I'm talking about the approach to education that, quite frankly, is kind of old fashioned. There is a balance of manners, respect, and discipline. This is all because the school has a very rigorous curriculum that the students have to master. And as Clark says, there's not time to spare.
His right-hand partner in this venture is co-founder, and language arts teacher, Kim Beardon. Like Clark she is also an award-winning teacher. Beardon says their students will achieve high marks in the classroom because time isn't wasted on discipline issues. "They (the students) are behaving, they are listening, they are paying attention". Mix into this equation talented, smart, creative, and entertaining teachers who the kids say, make it all worthwhile and fun. The result is learning of the highest caliber.
Another thing about Clark Academy -- that I've found to be true at other top notch alternative schools I've visited -- there really is a sense of family. It's not just a cliché. The kids feel it. There's a genuine notion that everyone in the school cares about each and every one of the students. And these kids have found out that when someone cares about you, believes in you, and come hell-or -high water, refuses to let you fail, you don't fail.
Student after student said things like, "I love my teachers. They're strict but it's worth it". Another student said, "The work is hard but, I know I can do it". And with tears running down her checks an eleven-year old said, because of Clark Academy, " I'm gonna grow up and be somebody".
In just the few short weeks this new school has been open in Atlanta, kids aren't just imaging a future anymore, they're charting a road map to get there.