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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ron Clark Academy Gratitude...yes more about RCA!

Be forewarned, this is a very long post.

I have done two posts on 5 for Friday with Doodle Bugs about RCA.  The first post can be found {HERE} and the second post {HERE}.

This post is going to be ALL about the details.  Most people post about their experiences at RCA in the broad, big picture manner.  I am a detail person.  I host parties (when I have time).  I grew up in a household with a mom who was the world's best hostess.  She truly is an amazing cook and giving person.  So, I learned from the best!

When I went to Ron Clark Academy, I was struck with the little details.  The big picture ABSOLUTELY catches your attention, but the finite details are out of this world.  The extent of the planning involved in an event like the National Educator's Conference is astounding.  Much like the little details that you will find around the school, such as the coins in the stairs that are from around the world. 

To begin, I want to talk about how I got there.  I have spoken about how I was able to get complete funding through my school's amazing and supportive PTA.  That was awesome.  I prepared a presentation and the PTA thought my enthusiasm about this conference was so great that they wanted to support me in getting this information for our staff.  

So, after a long, long, long time waiting for the day to arrive... finally June 3rd arrived.  I got to the airport approximately 2 hrs early (it was very early in the morning).  Which, since you don't know, is crazy for my tiny Albuquerque airport... 1 hr is totally sufficient.  I was so excited I just had to go early.  

As I arrived to the computer desk to get my tickets (I had even gone online to do the check-in), I got a text from the airline saying my flight was super delayed and now I would arrive at Atlanta at 11:30 p.m.  I was slated to arrive at 2:30 (as the kickoff for everything was 4:45 and I didn't want to miss a second of any of it).  I freaked out!  No, this could not be happening.  

I went to the desk with a human and politely asked about changing what had just happened via text.  She practically yelled no in my face.  She had great sarcasm and said, "Sorry, try changing things at your layover destination.", which was Denver.  I held it together but was totally crying on the inside.  I said, "Thank you anyway."  I went through security and continued to my gate.  I watched as person after person went up to the gate staff trying to get help.  Most people yelling and angry.  I went up to check if they knew of any way to change my scenario.  I was "my momma raised me right" and when they said, "Nope." I just thanked them and walked away.  I sat.  Trying very hard not to cry but I was tearing up.  How could this happen?  This did not seem meant to be, at all.  I started wondering if they checked all layover areas that could get me to my destination on time.  I would go anywhere for a layover... who cares!  By the way, the whole issue was that there was bad weather somewhere in TX that was backing up all the other flights.  Uncontrollable situation...things like that happen.

So, I mustered up some courage and this is what happened.

Me:  I am sorry to bother you again.  I know I already asked.  I know you are getting yelled at and I am sorry that is happening.  I was just wondering- when you check the flight status to get someone to their destination do you check all layover possibilities?  I don't care if I have to go to Phoenix to get to Atlanta, I just really need to get there before 5.  I am a teacher and I am going to a very special conference in Atlanta and I have been planning this for a long time.  (I try to hold back the absolutely real tears, and I do but it is probably obvious I am about to cry.)
Airport staff person:  Oh.  Let me see what I can do. (Lots of typing, saying of no not there, and then...)  Oh, there may be a couple seats left for a layover in Houston.  Let me double check.  Yes, you can take the flight and get to Atlanta by 4:30 p.m.  

I kept thanking the ladies over and over.  I thought to myself, what if I hadn't tried again?  I would have missed the whole first night.   

So, I went straight from the airport to RCA, bags and all.  Ok, now that you know the "how" of getting there, I feel I may move on to the details.  

When I arrived via taxi, the first person I saw was Mr. Walker.  The most amazing PE teacher you will ever meet.  I was able to speak with him later at the end of my time at the conference and I am so sad I forgot to get a picture with him.  What a fabulous person he is!  So joyful and full of energy.  Anyway, when I arrived at RCA and jumped out with my bags, Mr. Walker greeted me as though I was a friend he hadn't seen in years.  I felt a part of RCA that very second.  Thank you, Mr. Walker.  I love your heart! 

I entered the library that was full of music, cheering, singing, and happiness.  A fabulous parent volunteer showed me where to place my bags.  As an educator, I wish to thank all the parents at RCA.  What amazing parents you are to allow crazy teachers and principals to come and observe your kids and ask them millions of questions.  We appreciate that you allow our observations.  Through these observations we are able to learn and change the education system from the inside out because of this allowance.  Thank you!

Later on that night, when my friend and I were heading back to the hotel, I wasn't sure if the library was locked up or not.  I asked Mr. Wade King for assistance as he was nearby at that moment.  He happily went to the library with me to ensure it was unlocked and then helped me with the door so I could get out to the shuttle bus.  Thank you, Mr. King for your assistance.  I should add, when I initially "ran into" Mr. King in his classroom, it was during the house sorting.  We got in line to spin a smaller version of the house wheel.  During that time, there were a few students playing drums along with Mr. King who was rocking out with his set of drums.  As I got up to the area near him, I tapped his shoulder.  He stopped drumming for a bit (which I didn't intend) and I shouted to him (it was very loud, fyi), "You don't know me but I follow you and your wife on social media and I love what you both do." He hopped up suddenly and hugged me.  I almost cried.  Here I am, hugging someone I idolize.  Wow.  I was so struck by the moment I didn't even ask for a picture...darn it!  Thank you again, Mr. King. 

Once sorted into groups, there was an area outside in the courtyard where each teacher got house t-shirts.  I spun Isibindi, so I received my green shirt.  It is one of my favorite colors, so I was excited.  My friend, Suzy spun Altruismo.  That's ok, I guess.  :)  Thank you, RCA for the shirts.  It made us feel apart of your houses.  
I have spoken about the cookies before, but it needs repeating.  At various tables there were house cookies along with sodas and water.  We quickly walked past a table and I noticed them.  I stopped in my tracks.  They were cookies that were imprinted with edible ink of each house crest in full color.  I mean... the details.  I was in a super hurry and accidentally grabbed the wrong house cookie but that's ok.  It ended up being the winning house of this year, so yay for Amistad!  Thank you, Wicked Good Cookies for the delicious house themed cookies!  Thank you, Mr. Dovico for reminding me the name of the cookie company!! Ha!

The buses.  Ok, when I heard there were shuttle buses, I was imagining shuttle buses like those white buses that look like the shorter school buses.  Um, no.  These were the kind that are humongous with bathrooms in the back, video screens, and comfy chairs.  WOW!  The drivers were kind, helpful, and put up with all the crazy teachers they had to see for those 3 days!  Thank you to the amazing bus drivers and bus company, MTI Limo and Shuttle!!!

On the first day, as mentioned, I began in the library.  I was placed in a group by using a letter that was written on the top of my name tag- didn't realize that until later.  There was a lot of help getting the educators organized and moving out to their tours.  We were given the most amazing bag full of goodies.  The bag is decorated with pictures of moments from the school.  Inside was the biggest dry eraser I had ever seen, dry erase markers, some snacks, water, a RCA notepad and pen, a couple booklets about the conference and school, and I feel like there were other items but I totally forgot...I didn't think fast enough to take a picture of inside the bag.  Thank you, RCA for the best swag bag!

Our group's tour was run by an excellent guide named, Zao (sp?).  She was honest about her experiences and truly seemed to love RCA.  She took us through one of the secret passageways that are hidden in the school.  Upon entering, we found a giant amount of food!  I didn't have any as I felt it might be meant for the staff of RCA.  Even if it wasn't, I was just happy to hear our sweet tour guide talk while others stopped to take a few snacks and ask questions.  Zao told us about the schedule at RCA.  I found it fascinating!  They arrive each morning and there is a spot for them to look to see what their first class will be.  Then during that class, they are instructed about where to go for their next class.  Each day, they have a different schedule.  It was asked if this was confusing.  She said, she loved it and couldn't imagine going to a school where every day was the same.  Thank you, Zao for your time and candor!  Thank you for helping us learn about the school through your eyes.  I am sorry if I spelled your name incorrectly!

There were food and drinks available throughout the entire 3 days.  We were never hungry or thirsty, thanks to the amazing hospitality of RCA.  At the host hotel, Marriott Marquis, each morning there was a lovely breakfast served.  The plates served had sausages, eggs, and homestyle potato chunks.  We also had orange juice, water, and coffee.  This kind of breakfast was sit down and I am positive was organized by RCA as an add on feature with the hotel.  Thank you for the breakfasts, RCA and Marriott!

The first evening there was an amazing band that I already spoke about in another post, but they were so great!  Thank you, Simply Irresistable for the fabulous music.  Your performance made me feel like dancing...and I did... a lot!  There was a DJ the second evening (tacky prom night).  I never caught the name of the DJ but he did a wonderful job also.  My friend Suzy and I even danced on the stage (with many others) that night!!!  When I told my 12 year about that one, she just about passed out!  I LOVED the fire dancers during the evening of tacky prom as well.  They performed in a way that made me worry they would catch fire.  They were awesome.  I also loved seeing the juggler on stilts as we entered the building at the beginning of the night.  Thank you to all who performed during the conference!

Suzy from On The Go Teacher Mama
Me looking tacky at the prom!
Our lunch on the Saturday of the conference was wonderful.  The people who were serving the lunches were so friendly and quick in pace.  Thank you, Sonny's BBQ.  I loved the sweet tea!  I grew up in Maryland in a family who always had sweet tea in the fridge, so it was fun to try your recipe.  It was great!

When I went to enter the workshop for Hope King's room... I made sure I bee-lined it up to the front of the group so I could be one of the first to enter.  As we got to her door, there she stood welcoming us into her room.  I immediately introduced myself and just as her husband had done earlier, she hugged me.  Again, I felt silly, but I almost cried.  I admire Mrs. King and her creativity.  Thank you, Mrs. King for making me feel special even though you get bombarded with a million ladies all wanting a minute of your time!

I attended Daniel Thompson's workshop (awesome science teacher) about RCA-isms.  He spoke about the nuances that we all were witnessing.  He discussed the "how-to" of making your classroom more like an RCA classroom.  It was great.  He spoke about how to help your students work harder and really participate in class.  Thank you Mr. Thompson for breaking it down for us.

We were treated to a special condensed version (I thought it was a lot though) of the RCA Spring Musical.  The students were amazing.  I laughed so hard.  You were stellar actors, singers, dancers, and all around performers.  Thank you for sharing that with us.

When it was time to get slide certified, after each person was out of the slide, there were several people helping the educators up to their feet.  I was picked up by J Amezqua (I'll talk about him in a minute), and Mr. Fleming (another awesome RCA educator).  They picked me up with such force and speed, I went flying to my feet.  It was pretty funny!  Then we had our slide certification sticker placed on us and we were told popsicles were awaiting us out in the courtyard.  Oh my!  It was most literally the best popsicle I have ever had.  Thank you, King of Pops for the super delicious key lime popsicle!  Thank you, Mr. Fleming and Mr. Amezqua for cracking me up with your super assist to stand me up!!!

Ok, back to J Amezqua.  He is the photographer for RCA.  You see his work all the time without even realizing it.  He has the most amazing eye for photographing his subjects.  I told him, while waiting in line for the book signing at the end of the conference, that I love his art.  Below he is the one in the white shirt with a gray vest.  

One thing that struck me during my entire visit to RCA was its immaculate presentation and extremely well oiled organization.  I mean, there were 550 educators at their school and there wasn't a hiccup the whole time we were there!!!  
Again, coming from a home that hosted parties, I know what it is like to clean and organize before the guests.  It's exhausting.  One of the people in charge of helping organize and care for the school is named Hutch Jones.  He is the project manager and "Magic Maker" of the school.  Another person who worked hard (but wasn't there) was Aungelita Williams.  She is the Educator Training coordinator.  She was not there due to having a baby.  :)  So, Chrissi Major stepped in (along with many others) to organize and help events flow easily.  She is in charge of Creative Marketing.  The entire staff of RCA made extreme efforts to make the conference a truly memorable experience for us all.  Thank you, RCA staff for such an amazing experience.  I appreciate the hard work, the exhaustion I am sure you experienced, and the love and detail you put into every part of this event.  

I expect to have one more post about this adventure but it will be to describe how I will be presenting this to my school's staff.  I have my outline complete and am ready to share my ideas.  
That is soon to come!