Top Teacher finalist just one element of Cool School - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Top Teacher finalist just one element of Cool School

BLYTHEWOOD, SC (WIS) - Teacher Tal Thompson is just one of many people who make Lake Carolina Elementary School a Cool School. Thompson was a finalist for the Top Teacher award on Live with Kelly and Michael

WIS caught up with Thompson and his class before he left for the big show in New York.

"I thought, 'Oh my goodness this is not what I was expecting for the first day of school!'” exclaimed Natalie Foster, one of Thompson's fourth grade students.

But as the school year comes to an end, singing and dancing is second nature for students like Foster. Thompson writes his own lyrics to popular songs by artists like Taylor Swift. The words aren't Blank Spaces. Rather, they help the students remember things like math formulas and details of the Civil War.

"He's fantastic. He really is," said parent Andrea Berry. "He pours himself into teaching. Teaching is a hard, hard job. And he pours his whole self into it."

Parents said they're thankful their children don't just have a great teacher, but also someone to look up to.

“Mr. Thompson has a lot of energy so when he teaches we get excited and into it and it helps us remember it a lot easier," said fourth grader Miguel Salinas.

"He also wants us to learn about the world outside, not just the things we need to know for our tests,” said Thompson's student Carolina Cadena.

As fun as Thompson's class is, it doesn't mean it's easy. But he tells his students to enjoy the struggle because, when they do that, the reward is so much sweeter.

“He challenges every child to go beyond what they think they can do and somehow, with 44 kids, he manages to do that for each child," said parent Shelley Cadena.

"It's overwhelming to know the thing you do, for what we call a job, is impacting kids that much and to know that what you do matters and it's making a difference in kids' lives,” Thompson said.

Online voting for the Live with Kelly and Michael Top Teacher award is over. The winner was announced Friday on the Live with Kelly and Michael show. Thompson did not win.

Thompson's standout teaching style led WIS to take a deeper look at all the cool things at Lake Carolina Elementary Upper Campus. It's the newest school in Richland School District Two and its art and music programs are too cool to ignore. 

The art program meets once a week after school and students get to make things like clay ceramics and recycled art from objects they have found. They often enter their work in art contests and community projects. 

Lake Carolina's band and music program is exceptional also. The students often produce full musicals. Most recently they did a Disney-themed show.

"There are many children who excel in music and acting that it might not be their strong point in class being a top reader," said music teacher Gray Hansberry. "But they have been absolutely fabulous on stage. I've had children in the past who've stuttered and had a hard time getting through one word in a sentence and they can sing beautifully, it just comes out, which is just magic to me."

Teachers say the biggest message they want students to take home is that they are all artists in their own way.

Lake Carolina Elementary School also has the largest enrollment of military children in the entire district. There are more than 100 military kids which is about 20% of the school's population. Teachers have support groups for the students because military kids have unique circumstances that are different from other classmates. Connecting one student to another who has a parent in the military creates an instant connection.

"Just being welcomed and moving in and moving out, of course their parent deploying has got to be worse than leaving a friend. But I think there's just constant change for them," said counselor Jessica Skinner. "So just knowing that there's a place that's just going to keep them steady here at school while they're here with us before they move off to another place is helpful."

Teachers said military students add a unique dynamic because they can share about the different places they have lived and what life is like on a military base.

And all of these components are why Lake Carolina Elementary Upper Campus is such a Cool School.

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