Elementary Students Shake the Idea That They are Too Young to Master Professional Skills

By Leigh Bagwell, Director of School Counseling Services

Principal Helen Campbell

Since the beginning of the school’s existence, Walter Hill Elementary School’s mission has been to challenge every student to achieve academic excellence. Now in her fifth year as principal at Walter Hill, Helen Campbell has been challenging her staff to continue the pursuit of that mission. Campbell and her staff have worked hard as a team to provide their students “with opportunities not found elsewhere.”

One of those opportunities has been the Amazing Shake.

Heather Eskridge, a school counselor at Walter Hill, spearheaded the program, which was inspired by the Ron Clark Academy, two years ago.

Throughout the past semester, students learned interpersonal skills, customer service, resume skills, and properly dressing for the job you want as opposed to the one you have. They also took fieldtrips to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and the Tennessee Air National Guard.

Walter Hill has hosted numerous guest speakers from the community, some who spoke to fourth- and fifth-graders about work ethic and business management, and others who talked about business phone etiquette.

“There’s such an interest in developing soft skills for kids because there’s such a deficit for people going out into the workforce,” said Eskridge, who asked. “Knowing it’s a deficit in our community, why isn’t everybody teaching soft skills?”

After months of preparation, 120 fourth and fifth grade students, dressed in their best professional attire, competed in an all-day competition that included challenges such as practicing customer service while bagging groceries, group interviews, and employing networking skills when meeting high school DECA students. Ms. Eskridge reached out to business and industry to recruit judges. The response was extremely positive from the professionals. Throughout the day they continued to be impressed by the work readiness skills that the students displayed. Students were scored on their handshake, eye contact, and confidence. Judges were also encouraged to provide the students with feedback and helpful hints.

At the end of the day, the entire student body lined the hallways to cheer on their classmates as the top 40 students were announced over the intercom.

Students at the Nashville Predators arena

Over the course of the next two days, the top students were able to showcase their talents across Nashville by completing challenges with the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators organization, as well as tour directors at the Country Music Hall of Fame and art curators with the Frist Center for the Arts. With each challenge the finalists were narrowed until just the top five students remained.

Campbell said the program has been successful in building “confidence and skills in the classroom” that can ultimately be “applied out in the world.”

On the final day of the Amazing Shake competition, the top five students were surprised to learn they were going to spend a couple hours at GoNoodle headquarters. “We just screamed in the car,” said one, who was excited to visit the Nashville-based education and technology company that develops mobile apps and online videos focused on combining physical activity and interactive learning. GoNoodle co-founder Scott McQuigg told the group that studies have shown physical activity makes your brain ready to learn.

After conferencing with McQuigg and touring the facility, which gave them an opportunity to meet and introduce themselves to everyone, the five finalists developed skits to promote GoNoodle to fellow students across the country. They got to pitch them to the CEO and executive team. After a very difficult deliberation the judges chose the winner and runner-up of this year’s Amazing Shake.

“What I saw today are real-world skills,” said McQuigg, who was impressed with their quizzical nature, curiosity, desire for discovery and willingness to learn. “Those are skills they’re going to need when they grow up and become young adults and look to create careers.”

McQuigg added, “There’s no doubt Walter Hill Elementary is doing amazing things for kids.”

This competition culminated the following Monday morning when Campbell and Eskridge announced to the entire school that the top two performers, Riley Sims and De’Shawn Miller, will be attending the national Amazing Shake event at Clark’s Atlanta-based academy in February.

When asked what she’ll remember most about the Amazing Shake, Riley said, “All the people I met and all the places I went.”

At the beginning of the event, De’Shawn set a goal for himself. “Last year, I didn’t get past the first round. So my goal is to make it to the second round.” After he was named the second place winner, he reflected, “I can’t believe I made it to the top two. I am really happy!”

The office of school counseling is working with Ms. Eskridge to develop a guide for developing an Amazing Shake competition for fourth and fifth grade students. She notes that holding the school-based competitions is a good place to start. The guide will be released in spring 2018 and included in the counselor resource center on CollegeforTN.org. If you are interested in holding an Amazing Shake at your elementary school, contact School.Counseling@tn.gov.