In keeping with the spirit of the Amazing Shake, students participating in this year's national competition had to think on their feet and make the adjustment from traveling to Atlanta to competing online via the newly popularized Zoom app.
Natalee Drummond was one of more than 260 kids competing.
The 11-year-old was the top fifth-grader from Eagleville and then advanced to the national competition — hosted by the Ron Clark Academy — after winning a countywide competition in Rutherford County earlier this year.
National qualifiers were originally going to travel to Atlanta in April, but that event was postponed and eventually transitioned to an online format because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Drummond was looking forward to traveling out of state and spending several nights in a hotel. More importantly, competing in-person would have given the rising sixth-grader an opportunity to meet other students from throughout the country as well as faculty and staff from the Academy.
"It was sad because when I found out that I made nationals, I was so excited just getting to go to Atlanta for the experience," Drummond said.
Instead, the 2020 Ron Clark Academy Amazing Shake took place online from May 18 to May 22.
On the first day, Drummond and the others participated in virtual classes and a meet-and-greet. On the second day, she took part in the first phase of competition, which included online meetings and interviews.
Drummond advanced into the round of the Top 100.
Participants were given a script and then asked to film a commercial selling water.
Drummond finished 84th.
While the Rutherford County Schools' competition focuses on fifth-graders, the national competition features fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
Her mother, Krystn Drummond, said, "I was a little bit nervous for her, but I had all the confidence in the world that she would do well."
Krystn added, "For a fifth-grader to be able to receive the information, formulate their thoughts and then speak it out in a way that is articulate, is definitely a challenge, but one that will help them in adulthood. She's already thinking about things she wants to do for her future and the type of job she wants to have. I know all of these skills will be very valuable for her."
Natalee and the other 2020 national qualifiers will be eligible to compete again next year in Atlanta.
As a sixth-grader, she and her mother feel Natalee will all the more prepared.
"She's looking forward to next year," Krystn said, "and it gave us an insight as to what, how to prepare. Just kind of gave her a glimpse into what will be required."
"I learned it's hard because when you get put on the spot," said Natalee, whose strongest asset are interpersonal skills that shine in-person.
Natalee had previously been homeschooled and the 2019–2020 school year was her first at Eagleville.
She and her parents described her first year at the school as incredible.
Eagleville and the curriculum expected by Rutherford County Schools went a long way toward helping Natalee recognize areas of strength and weakness
"Some parts of the competition have been easy for her," Krystn said. "She loves to interact. She's very polite. She was a good conversation, and she loves to engage, whereas having to think on her feet, having to stay up to date on current events, things like that, have definitely pushed her a little bit."
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT, Rutherford County Schools