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Look inside the incredible school even MrBeast couldn’t believe

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Look inside the incredible school even MrBeast couldn’t believe

Educators come from worldwide to observe how teachers at this school engage their students.

Children celebrating with confetti in the air

Picture a school where each student is taught to be powerful. The ceiling in the atrium looks like the sky beyond with dragons flying in loops and peering down at people. Students are divided into houses — each with its own color, symbol, and mascot — where they learn about community, being a good citizen, and belonging. 

No, it’s not Hogwarts. Though it may be hard to believe, this one isn’t fiction.

It’s Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, Georgia, an innovative nonprofit middle school redefining the traditional classroom experience. Founded by world-renowned educators Ron Clark and Kim Bearden, the school breaks with the status quo one-size-fits-all education model that overlooks the unique qualities of each student. In contrast, RCA’s tailored approach encourages students to believe in themselves, recognize their unique talents, and share their gifts. The school’s success underscores the importance of allowing students to pursue their individual strengths, enabling them to lead lives of purpose and meaning.

That idea caught the attention of Jimmy Donaldson, aka MrBeast, the most-followed individual content creator on YouTube with 256 million subscribers. He discovered RCA and partnered with Stand Together to highlight it as one example of what education in America can look like. 

 

MrBeast profiles Ron Clark Academy, which is redefining the traditional classroom experience. Students love it.

 

MrBeast is known for his outlandish stunts, high-stakes challenges, and life-changing generous gifts that help thousands of people worldwide. Stand Together teamed up with him via his nonprofit, Beast Philanthropy, to bring 200 teachers to Ron Clark Academy to observe the magic happening inside its walls. Beast Philanthropy Executive Director Darren Margolis and Chief Creative Officer Dan Mace witnessed the wizardry themselves. 

The 180-student middle school, which opened in 2007, features two giant, winding tube slides in its lobby and murals of superheroes in its classrooms. With its dynamic teaching methods, emphasis on relationships, and unwavering belief in each student's potential, RCA empowers students to thrive academically, socially, and beyond — and educators from all over the world come to see how it’s done. 

“I couldn't believe a place like this actually existed,” said MrBeast.

From reluctant substitute to teacher of the year

Initially, Clark wasn’t interested in teaching K-12. As a first-generation college graduate from rural North Carolina in 1995, he had just completed his studies at East Carolina University when a local teacher passed away, and the school was looking for a substitute. “My mom twisted my arm, and I went to school and started teaching. I didn't really want to do it. I didn't want to be there.” 

So what happened? “I just fell in love with students and the passion and the possibilities,” he said. 

After five years of teaching in small-town North Carolina, a television show about schools in Harlem inspired Clark to test his teaching methods in the big city at some of the most difficult schools in the country. “I went up there, and it was really challenging,” he said. “But basically, I did the same things there I did in North Carolina.” He built relationships with students and their parents. He included music and dancing in lessons, ate lunch with students, and played with them at recess.  

“I tried to make it fun,” he said. “And then I made it really hard because I learned that you can make it as hard as you want for kids, as long as you keep them engaged and as long as they want to be there.”

“Because Ron believed in himself and taught the kids to believe in themselves too, in just a few years, he was able to completely transform the lives of the students at the school,” said MrBeast. In 2000, Clark won the Disney Teacher of the Year award, which is how he met his co-founder, Bearden.  

The proof? It’s bigger than their 90% acceptance rate

In the same year Clark was honored by Disney, Bearden also received recognition as the Disney Middle School Teacher of the Year. The two met and became fast friends. Their shared vision for a unique educational institution began to take shape. Despite initial fundraising challenges, Clark and Bearden didn’t give up on their dream of a different kind of school. 

A breakthrough came when Clark appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, sharing his teaching techniques and expectations for students. Winfrey suggested he write a book. That book, "The Essential 55," endorsed by Winfrey, became a huge success, with all proceeds going to the new school.

Selecting a 100-year-old abandoned factory in an under-resourced area of Atlanta, the founders saw the potential for transformation. “Somehow we just both looked at it and said, ‘This could be something amazing,’” said Bearden. 

With support from 3,000 community members, they launched the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in 2007. Over 17 years, the school has expanded from 60 to over 180 students, encompassing fourth through eighth grades. With an emphasis on character development and community impact, the academy boasts a 100% high school graduation rate and a 90% college or career training acceptance rate.

“The test scores are great,” said Clark. “But really we just want to make great people who love others and want to use their talents to make a difference in the lives of the people that they're around.” 

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8th grader: ‘I’m excited to come to school every single day’ 

At Ron Clark Academy, students want to be there. It’s a fact that Mace found hard to believe until he saw it for himself. “I thought to myself, you know a school that's fun?” he said. “That's impossible.” 

Clark and the other teachers employ engaging methods such as standing on desks, using rap to teach grammar and history, and creating song-and-dance routines to captivate students. But the magic goes beyond making academics more exciting. Here, the teachers prioritize building meaningful relationships.

“I’m excited to come to school every single day because I know there's going to be something different and something new in store,” said Dylan Andrews, an eighth grader at RCA. “Teachers, they're always supporting you, so you know they're gonna have your back.”

“One thing that I love [about RCA] is the relationships between the teachers and the parents,” said Steve Johnson, an RCA parent. “The teachers are very engaged, and they want to make the parents very aware of what's going on every day at school.”

With 94% of students on scholarship, Margolis was impressed by how much the school is changing lives. “Most of the kids that go to the school come from backgrounds or environments that wouldn't inspire the best of them,” he said. “But they come here, and they are taught to believe in themselves. And that is the most powerful thing that Clark is doing, is teaching these kids to go for their dreams.”

A 2015 graduate from RCA, Zyan had no expectations or dreams for himself because of what he perceived as his limitations. 

“For me it was just, can I just do something more? Can I get out of this community? What does that even look like?” he said. “RCA helped me find my passion, helped me find where I wanted to go, gave me a voice to use, and taught me how to use it and also who to use it for.”

A Gates Millennium Scholar who attended Princeton and Harvard, Zyan now teaches eighth grade and dreams of becoming Secretary of Education for the United States. Instead of focusing on what his future will mean for only himself, he’s looking for opportunities to contribute and help those around him. 

Training teachers to impact millions of students

Reaching students worldwide is a tall order. No one school can do that, which is why Clark and Bearden decided to build RCA as a model school. The founders invite educators to come to RCA and train in this individualized approach so they can take it to schools everywhere.

Every year, tens of thousands of educators come through RCA to observe classes and learn the engaging teaching techniques of Clark, Bearden, and their staff. In partnership with Beast Philanthropy, Stand Together helped 200 teachers attend a crash course on this new way of bringing out the best in their students.

A visiting teacher, Michele Pisciottano, noted the freedom students have at RCA. “The students here have autonomy, so they're able to be themselves,” she said. “That is something that I love being able to take back, where I put my students in charge, and I give them kind of that role to take the autonomy of their learning.” 

“It's been an amazing experience to see different tools that I can add to my toolkit as an educator to make sure that I'm meeting the needs of all my students,” said another visiting teacher, Cassandra Wisdom.

Bearden hopes educators know the potential impact they can have on the world by helping one child at a time build their confidence and discover their talents. “Every teacher needs to realize it could be in the millions of lives that are indirectly affected by ours,” she said. 

“Through this course at the RCA, we have equipped hundreds of teachers to positively influence thousands of kids at schools all across the country for generations to come,” said MrBeast.

RCA’s approach redefines the purpose and vision of education. Instead of grading children based on their performance and how they compare to one another, education should be about empowering every kid to believe in themselves, recognize their talent, and develop their unique gifts to share with others.

“When a person believes in themselves, they will accomplish things that they never dreamed they'd be able to,” said Margolis. “The Ron Clark Academy helps these kids uncover their true talents and their true potential so that they can transform their lives and use their talents and potential to help lift others and help them achieve their best too.”

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The Stand Together community partners with changemakers who are tackling the root causes of America’s biggest problems.

Learn more about Stand Together’s education efforts and explore ways you can partner with us.

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