Oprah Winfrey cut to the chase in her opening remarks at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) this past Friday in Atlanta, GA. She spoke to what makes this school so special in a way that only Oprah could. In a room filled with students, teachers, politicians, business leaders, and celebrities, she spoke about how the magic of RCA is rooted in a fundamental choice between “love and fear.”
I’ve visited RCA on a few occasions and can proudly claim slide certified status. I’ve also witnessed the incredible dedication, passion, and high standards upheld by Ron Clark and Kim Bearden, co-founders of RCA. Until this weekend, however, I’d missed the true secret -- the magic -- of RCA.
It’s not only the incredibly passionate and creative teachers, the high standards, or the Hogwarts-inspired campus that makes this place what it is... It’s the love, y’all.
My colleagues and I expected to be awed by stellar performances from the students, a hallmark of the RCA experience. What we didn’t expect was how moving the incredibly vulnerable and authentic stories shared by students and community members would be. These biographical sketches highlighted the school’s commitment to meet and nurture the hearts as well as the minds of RCA students.
While some educators debate how to rapidly prepare students for jobs in a future that will be transformed by AI, robotics, and other exponential technologies, RCA chooses to focus on helping students find their power and voice within a climate of love and respect for all. It is from this position of inner strength and acceptance that our future leaders will be capable of navigating the complicated ethical landscape that lies ahead.
This anniversary event was not a pep rally for RCA, but a battle cry for parents, teachers, administrators, and public officials to embrace a more expansive view of what schools and education can be for our students.
As a person who spends his days trying to uphold a worldview for education that extends beyond skill and knowledge development, I was left with a renewed sense of hope and commitment to putting love at the center of our work.
Reading Plus is proud to be partnered with RCA in making a difference in the lives of students. We are humbled by RCA’s bold, impassioned commitment to start with love and fully support the deeper human potentials of all students.
Oprah closed the event by deciding to donate $5 million to help RCA complete its latest initiative, the Ryan Marshall Performing Arts Center. This center will expand the capacity of RCA, providing the opportunity for tens of thousands of educators to partake in “the magic” and learn how to cultivate it in their own educational communities.
Oprah wasn’t alone in feeling the love.
Thank you, RCA.