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Teachers at Williams Intermediate School in Pell City with Hope and Wade King, designer Brittany Wheaton and their teams in the newly remodeled teachers’ lounge. Photo by Kirby Betancourt

Every new school year comes with its own transformations: kids get older, requiring new school clothes and school supplies, new friends, new classes, and new routines.

Curriculum and staff may change, but one Pell City school received a transformation of not only classrooms, but of perspectives.

Hope and Wade King, authors of the book “The Wildcard: 7 Steps to an Educator’s Creative Breakthrough” and educators at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, issued a nationwide challenge to schools back in January of this year. Teachers across the U.S. were tasked with different challenges for each day, from writing an encouraging note to students or co-workers, to “Being intentional about your smile all week.” Teachers would post pictures and videos on social media with #bethewildcard. At the end of the challenge, any one that participated had to submit an application and video to be considered.

Out of 2500 entries from 500 schools nationwide, Williams Intermediate School in Pell City won first place and was the overall winner.

“These teachers were taking our strategies and making them their own,” said Wade King, on why Williams Intermediate was chosen as the winner. “They were not only making a positive impact on students, but supporting each other. There were two top-level schools—this one just never stopped. They were being consistent with creating a positive environment and mentality.”

Hope and Wade King took over the school for a day of professional development with teachers on Monday, which included a keynote speech and workshops. Two classrooms received Glow Game and Toy Story transformation treatments illustrating the ways in which a change in environment can help engage students’ minds in STEAM challenges.

Teachers in the Toy Story room were given the task of creating a tower out of clothespins and Popsicle sticks that could hold toy Army men and aliens. Each group had different strategies, with the objective being who could make the tallest tower.

“Sometimes it can be a challenge for kids to work out problems to get through and work together,” said Hope King. “You can’t avoid frustration, but what makes kids improve is exposure.”

The activity focused on the “4 Cs”: creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Working in groups and creating a competition helps students to “learn to work together,” Hope said.

After a day of team building and inspiration, the teachers were surprised by the big reveal of the newly renovated teachers lounge. Designer Brittany Wheaton, “The Superhero Teacher,” wanted to create a space that reflected the idea of community and collaboration, resulting in a coffee-shop themed space.

“This is such a little piece of what you guys deserve,” Hope King told the teachers. “You’ve learned some strategies you can take back to your classroom and be a beacon of light for other schools. You guys make it possible.”

“I’m just so full of emotion,” said WIS Principal Holly Costello. “To see how far we’ve come in about three years, a lot attributed to your book. It’s just a great day here at Williams.”

Costello has been at Williams for 13 years and says it took a long time to build a team of faculty, from teachers, administration, custodians and lunchroom staff that supports each other.

“It’s about building relationships and building a team that will pour into students and getting the right people together to go the extra mile,” Costello said. “There’s a new excitement and joy [in the school] and constant collaboration in how we can keep students engaged, interested, and motivated to come to school.”

“Strive to be different,” said Hope King. “Once a week, create something unexpected to keep kids motivated, that they can still learn from, using something that excites them.”

The Kings’ advice for other educators is to “serve and offer advice where you can.” For more information on “The Wild Card” program, visit www.setthestagetoengage.com.

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