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Raising the Grade

No child is invisible when head-of-the-class Kim Bearden’s in charge.

Kim Bearden’s energetic grammar lessons include catchy songs, drums and students dancing on their desks.

“I always wanted to spend my life in a classroom, but I never knew it would evolve into this,” reflects breakthrough educator Kim Bearden. Bearden’s life changed when she met fellow award-winning educator Ron Clark at Disney’s American Teacher Awards. Sharing a similar instruction philosophy, and fueled by the support of one Oprah Winfrey, the duo opened Ron Clark Academy in 2007 in a lower socioeconomic part of the city and filled it with creative teachers.

Serving fifth- through eighth-graders, the nonprofit southwest Atlanta private school’s student body reflects a melting pot of academic abilities and income levels. Almost everyone attends on scholarship, thanks to philanthropic donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and monies raised from the school’s unique teaching program—which has attracted 22,000 educators from around the globe who come to observe classes in action. Students at RCA enjoy an out-of-the-ordinary learning environment punctuated with global travel to the U.K., South Africa and China as well as dynamic lessons (Bearden transforms her classroom into a beach, fashion runway, emergency room and more—depending on the lesson).

The magic and academic rigor surrounding this Hogwarts-meets-Harvard institution has gained global notoriety for its success rate—the entirety of its first graduating class is attending college. Through it all, Bearden hasn’t slowed. Besides her busy school and motivational speaking schedule, the sunny blonde is also a new mom to three adopted sons from Africa and the author of a new book, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me ($24, Simon & Schuster). Spanning experiences from her 28 years in the classroom, the motivational memoir is filled with inspiration. “Every child needs to be seen,” exclaims Bearden. “They need to see not where they are, but what they can become.”

Bearden's Hots
High heels; empowering others; putting others first; giving back; surrounding yourself with people who make you better

Bearden's Nots
Self-centered people; negativity; complainers; focusing on what you can’t do