The Blow It Up Benchmark Rally held at Oak Park Elementary School Tuesday evening appeared to deliver on its intended purpose of getting the Pine Bluff School District students excited about the upcoming benchmark exams and building up their confidence in the lead-up to the tests over the first two weeks of April.
The “Blow It up Gang” made up of six boys performed a stepping routine that built up the excitement level in the room and the “Dynamite Crew” of seven girls brought the energy level up another notch with their cheer performance.
Motivational speaker John Proctor Jr. provided the students with an interactive presentation meant to motivate their young minds to succeed.
“OK, I want all of the students to come here in the middle,” Proctor said as the kids gathered in a circle around Proctor in the middle of the school gymnasium with parents and teachers on either side in rows of folding chairs. “I’m going to say ‘do you believe?’ and I want ya’ll to answer ‘I believe.’ Do you believe?”
“I believe,” the students said somewhat tentatively.
“Do you believe?” Proctor said, his voice growing louder.
“I believe!” the students confidently answered.
“Do you believe?” Proctor said in the insistent tone of a war cry.
“I believe!” came the thundering answer from the students.
“Who all’s going to pass the test?” Proctor asked as the students raised their hands.
Proctor then had the students sit on the floor in front of him.
“Everybody in this room that brought you here today, they love ya’ll,” Proctor said. “Not only that but they’ve been in your shoes before and they know that you can do it.”
Proctor gently admonished the students that they do not in fact always know more than their parents do.
“There is a long list of things that ya’ll don’t know,” Proctor said. “You should pick your parents’ brains and ask them questions that you have. As you continue to move forward in your life sometimes it’s going to hurt and feel like nobody cares but remember that there are people who are there for you and who care for you.”
Proctor said that just as their teachers put passion into instructing them, students should put that same passion back into the benchmark tests they are about to take.
“How do you pass the test?” Proctor asked.
Student answers came. “Eat your breakfast,” said one. “Yes sir,” Proctor said. “Get enough sleep,” another said. “Yes ma’am,” Proctor said. “Study,” said another. “Yes sir,” Proctor said.
“Ask questions,” said one student. “Yes ma’am, but before the test,” Proctor said to laughter from the adults.
“Do you believe?” Proctor asked. “I believe!” came the student rallying cry.
“If you apply the same passion that you have for learning the words of a song to learning a math equation then you will succeed,” Proctor said.
“Now go run and hug whoever brought you here and tell them I’m going to pass the test,” Proctor said as a virtual stampede of children ran to all corners of the gym and dispensed hugs and affirmations before being called back to the front.
“This is very important,” Proctor said. “When you are getting ready to take the test make sure that you read and follow the directions. Follow the directions.”
With that Proctor was finished and sent the students back to their families.
Oak Park is one of five priority schools in the Pine Bluff School District which is a designation given to the lowest performing five percent of schools in Arkansas by the Arkansas Department of Education.
Oak Park Principal Beverly Jones is keenly aware of the need to pull her school out of its current situation.
“We are a priority school and want to work our way out of priority status,” Jones said Tuesday.
When asked why events like the Benchmark Rally are important, Jones was quick with an answer.
“To motivate the kids because they have had their feet to the fire all year and this gives them a chance to be inspired and to get into the right frame of mind for taking these tests,” Jones said. “We want them to relax and to feel good about themselves and about their ability to do well.”
Jones said that the first and second graders will take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills April 2-4 and the third, fourth and fifth graders will take the Augmented Benchmark Examinations April 8-12.