-by Jason Nichols
Thousands of students across the country are practicing their handshakes. But it’s more than just about learning to clasp hands in greeting. It’s part of the Amazing Shake, an energetic competition that originated at the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, Georgia, and focuses on the skills needed to be a good person, interact with others, be an active listener, stayed poised, eat with proper etiquette, go to a business luncheon, present a speech, show respect and grace, compassion and enthusiasm in a professional environment and, yes, shake hands. The Amazing Shake is for everyone in the fifth to eighth grade, as it prepares students for success in the world.
The competition is fierce at Bayside Sixth Grade Campus, where 57 students signed up in November. They began by learning “soft skills” that included a handshake, eye contact and an introduction. The students practiced these skills during Raider prep time, after school and at home.
Assistant Principal Jessica Rohmann is a big fan of the program.
“It is completely tied to our SEL (Social Emotional Learning) framework and goals,” she explained. “The expectations that all staff and students must follow tie directly into our PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) framework as well. So not only are we focusing on being respectful, responsible and ready to learn, (students) are also having those real-world experiences and connections.”
The first of five rounds in the competition began just after the students returned from winter break in January. Community volunteers and staff were on-site to judge handshakes and introductions, ultimately reducing the number of competitors to 30.
Student Nada Rafas said, “I’m learning all about really good skills to have for my future and I hope I win.”
In February, round two involved overall composure, introductions and small talk, with competitors having to carry on a conversation for a timed full minute. That left 20 contenders.
Round three was about moving through a series of 14 stations comprised of community volunteers. Each station tested different life skills, including balancing a check book, providing customer service, giving recipe instructions, walking a red carpet with paparazzi, getting a bank loan, and participating in a job interview.
Ellen Burns, a community volunteer at one of the stations was impressed with the students’ command of effective eye contact. “Even adults today can struggle with that simple skill,” she said.
Round four began with 10 competitors, each stepping in front of four or five community members at one station, introducing themselves and holding a conversation for a timed two minutes. The students were judged on their confidence and demeanor.
On Friday, March 11, the five remaining contenders faced round five, which required each to hold a confident conversation over dinner with members of the community and VBCPS senior staff at Bayside. After being judged on their poise, confidence, etiquette, eye contact and overall presentation, Amira Lail and Cornell Sims were declared to be the two Amazing Shake winners! They would normally go on to represent VBCPS at the national competition in Atlanta, but due to COVID-19 travel has been suspended.
“Being able to represent themselves, knowing there is a future out there for them,” she said. “I love that our data is showing our kids have a better understanding of how to set goals, how to be accountable for their actions and how to talk about our choices.”
To learn more about the Amazing Shake or how you can participate at your school next year, please visit The Amazing Shake.