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Lift each other up: Harlem teacher has a message to share

by Stacy Hanna
The Battle Creek Enquirer

(Originally published by the Battle Creek Enquirer on March 16, 2005, and used with permission. The opinions expressed by the Battle Creek Enquirer, visiting Expert in Resident, or the host organization do not necessarily represent those of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.)

Ron Clark strolled into the library at Franklin Elementary School wearing a serious blue suit.

It wasn’t until he knelt – positioning himself at eye-level with the fourth- and fifth-graders he’d come to see – that he showed his true colors.

Bending down, Clark’s trousers rose and revealed his brightly striped socks, an accessory that would be outdone only by his personality.

“What’s up?” he asked the kids with a surprisingly Southern twang. “I’m glad to meet y’all.”

Clark, originally from North Carolina, now teaches in Harlem but is on hiatus while he tours the country urging educators, parents and students to incorporate manners and respect into their lives.

Tuesday he brought his message to Battle Creek, stopping first at Franklin, where he danced and sang his way into the hearts of the 75 students gathered to hear him speak.

“I’ve visited 49 states in my year on the road,” Clark said, explaining the 50th state will be Alaska. “And I’m going to get there because I have a goal, and when I set a goal, I meet it.”

Clark told students that as a young college graduate, his only goal was to find adventure.

“I never expected to be a teacher, I just wanted to go where the adventure was,” Clark said, regaling students with tales of his travels to London and Romania. “What I found was that the best adventure is in the four walls of a classroom.”

Clark, 33, detailed some of his 55 rules, which were released in his first book, “The Essential 55,” published in 2004.

“When you meet someone for the first time, shake their hand with a firm grip, look them in the eye and introduce yourself with confidence,” Clark said. “Be kind and respectful to each other, clap for one another … lift each other up.”

He continued, “If you’re always bullying and putting people down, it’s going to pull you down, too. If you spend your time lifting people’s spirits, they will lift you up with them.”

Angelica Crosby, a 12-year-old fifth-grader at Franklin, was on hand for Clark’s presentation.

“I think we should be respectful and kind to the people around us,” Crosby said, agreeing with Clark. “I think he’s excellent, really funny.”

Nine-year-old Quentez Thomas-Caldwell, a fourth-grader, said he thought Clark was a nice guy and a good dancer.

“He taught us it’s good to have confidence in all things that you do,” Thomas-Caldwell said. “And he taught us the Harlem shake dance.”

Clark said the profits from his presentations, in addition to any books he sells while on the road, will go to the Ron Clark Foundation, an organization he founded to fund a new school for troubled students in Harlem.

“The school (called the Ron Clark Academy) will open in the fall with a fifth-grade class,” Clark said, adding that eventually fifth- through eighth-graders will attend the school.

“There will be 50 students this first year, all of them kids with discipline problems but who show leadership qualities,” he said. “We’re talking about kids who have the ability to lead other kids down the wrong path.”

Paula McPhee, principal at Franklin Elementary, said Clark validated what her school already teaches.

“We work very hard on respect and responsibility here,” McPhee said. “We teach the kids there are certain behaviors one should exhibit while at school, and Ron just reinforced that today. It’s really nice that the kids hear that from someone besides us.”

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