By Lexi Browning
West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.V. — The West Virginia Education Alliance will host its eighth annual WV Education Summit, themed “We’re All Connected,” virtually on Oct. 14, 20 and 22.
Over the course of three afternoons, educators, advocates and policymakers can listen and learn as leading regional and national education experts share their specialized insight and advice.
Each of the three summit sessions host two featured speakers and will include a range of topics built to support students in each phase of their education.
Amelia Courts, president of the Education Alliance, said though the ongoing pandemic certainly presented challenges in constructing the event, it also offered opportunities to be innovative in planning and making the event more accessible to a wider audience.
“In this current pandemic crisis, the critical role of education and the need for partnerships to support student learning is more evident now than ever before,” Courts said. “Participants will leave the summit with actionable strategies that we can all employ to strengthen early literacy, social emotional learning and career readiness for West Virginia students.”
Sally Barton, vice president of the Education Alliance, echoed Courts’ sentiments.
“Each of the days will touch on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s created new challenges for us as parents, students and teachers,” Barton said. “But that has also exacerbated long-standing issues in our system, so this is not just about COVID — this is about education and making sure that people understand that a quality education can change a life.”
Summit attendees will still have opportunities to converse with speakers during the virtual gathering, Barton added.
“We designed it so there will be opportunities to interact with the speakers, whether it’s a live chat or Q&A, our speakers have been very generous with creating opportunities for dialog with the folks who register and participate,” Barton said.
On October 14, the first session, Early Literacy, will take place between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The session will kick off with an introductory message from Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and founder and chairman of the nonprofit, ExeclinEd.
“Attendees will learn about the foundational importance of early literacy and about the link between success of students today and really, the destiny of our country,” Barton said.
Bush will be followed by Kymyona Burk, policy director for early literacy at ExcelinEd, and Monica DellaMea, executive director of the West Virginia Department of Education.
On October 20, the second session, Social Emotional, will take place between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. President and CEO of Communities in Schools, Rey Saldaña, and Pamela Cantor, M.D., founder and senior science advisor for Turnaround for Children.
Though the session is student-oriented, Barton said policymakers and educational advocates could benefit from learning how to best support students when they need it the most.
The third session, Career Readiness, will take place between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will feature Katherine Resteiner, chief of staff of Intel Capital, and Daneilla Mezera, senior policy fellow for ExcelinEd.
Ensuring that students have the necessary life skills to thrive post-graduation is a key focus for the Education Alliance, Barton said.
“As an organization, our goal is to make sure every West Virginia student is graduate ready for success when they leave high school,” Barton said. “That success can be many different things, and we want to make sure they have the knowledge, skills and characteristics of someone who will be determined, persevere, have grit and learn from failure and know that that’s part of the path.”
As demonstrated by the Education Alliance’s annual summer internship program, the organization has a strong relationship with the business sector, which has created opportunities for students to learn and excel.
“We have many business champions who are leaders from across the state, and they represent every type of industry, and they consistently report to us that they need a workforce that’s made up of innovative problem solvers and lifelong learners,” Barton said. “In order to meet that need, we’ve got to make sure that these innovative approaches are throughout every aspect of our public education system. That’s one of the goals of bringing people together at the summit.”
Barton said she anticipates integrating some of the new technologies deployed during the pandemic in future Education Summits to ensure more educators and advocates can participate, no matter where they’re located.
“I think having to adapt to the pandemic has forced us to, in a good way, look at how we do things and how we can improve,” Barton said. “I can’t imagine going back to what I now think is a limited format of solely in person. I think if anything, virtual will always be part of our programming when possible going forward because it allows a broader reach and engagement with our constituents, business community, policymakers and educators.”
Attendees can register for each of the Zoom webinars at www.educationalliance.org. To receive the early bird registration discount, participants must register by Wednesday, October 7. Classroom-based teachers and principals can register for free.
Regional sponsors include Appalachian Power, Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, EQT, Bowles Rice LLP, First Energy Foundation, Jackson Kelly PLLC, Northeast Natural Energy, ZMM Architect & Engineers, United Bank, AT&T, Dominion Energy, Mountain Health Network, West Virginia Development Office and West Virginia Economic Development Council.