By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
“I’m over the moon.”
Neither knew what the other was going to say when Veronica Babbitt and Madeline Heaton gave the same response after being named the top two winners in the 2019 Rutherford County Amazing Shake Competition.
And they hugged.
Heaton said the two fifth-graders — she attends Walter Hill Elementary, while Babbitt is enrolled at Kittrell Elementary — had never met until Wednesday morning during a tour of the local Nissan plant in Smyrna.
“Now we’re like this,” said Heaton, crossing her fingers to illustrate the tight bond they formed.
Babbitt’s mother, Brittney, said the new friends her daughter made Wednesday and Thursday “are what made the biggest impact on her.”
As the top two finalists, Heaton and Babbitt will represent Rutherford County at the Amazing Shake National Competition hosted by the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.
Nationals takes place Feb. 22–24.
“I can’t put it into words,” said Heaton, “I’m just so excited and I’m really happy that I’m here with Veronica and that we got to do it together, and that we get to go to Atlanta together and compete in the Ron Clark Amazing Shake.”
Babbitt added, “I’m definitely excited I get to do it with Madeline.”
The 10 finalists were Mateo Aello, Fatima Altamimi, Landon Burlason, Kim Cooper, Danielle Dunham, Elliyon Kinzer, Taryn Lowman, Jasmine Remy, Babbitt and Heaton.
The countywide winners were chosen after two days of competition that utilize the soft skills that are increasing becoming the hardskills of today’s workforce.
The Amazing Shake is a competition that places an emphasis of teaching students’ manners, discipline, respect and professional conduct — otherwise known as the soft skills of the 21st Century, according to Rutherford County’s elementary coordinator Ann Haley, who said it’s part of a districtwide initiative to develop softer interpersonal and relationship-building skills.
Students learn the nuances of professional human interaction as they are taught how to give a proper handshake, how to work a room, how to participate in a successful interview and how to maintain their composure under pressure.
The goal of the competition is to not only prepare students for today’s opportunities, but also those they will encounter in the future.
“Face-to-face communication has become a lost art in my opinion,” said Haley, who added, “It brings me such joy to watch these kids.”
Rutherford County Schools partnered with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce to jointly serve as organizers, sponsors and hosts of the countywide competition.
Area businesses involved included the Nissan Training Center / TCAT Smyrna and Schwan Cosmetics along with the corporate headquarters for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation.
There were 21 semi-finalists representing seven schools — John Colemon, Smyrna Primary, David Youree, Roy Waldron, Kittrell, Walter Hill and Brown’s Chapel elementary schools — who participated in Wednesday’s activities that included filming a commercial for Nissan’s soon-to-be-released partially autonomous car and a trip to Schwan Cosmetics before the 10 finalists were selected for Thursday’s trip to Middle Tennessee Electric.
“I am so proud,” Haley said Thursday night at a dinner in which all 10 finalists had an opportunity to mingle with attendees at a “Business After Hours” at the Chamber during a “work-the-room” competition.
Haley explained these skills are taught well before students reach fifth grade.
In fact, she said schools are investing in kids when they start pre-K and kindergarten and actually begin preparing specifically for the Amazing Shake during the second half of fourth grade.
“What I would love to see from these young people,” Director of Schools Bill Spurlock said, “take what you’ve acquired (during the Amazing Shake) and keep it going throughout middle school, high school and your college career. Use this.”
“Your confidence is showing, and it makes you a better citizen and a better student.”