On November 30th, our allies in Arkansas gathered in Little Rock for the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Summit, a fantastic weekend of trainings, workshops and networking for over 200 organizers and advocates. A big thank you to everyone who turned out! And for those of you who couldn't join, read on for a recap of the summit and pictures!
Perhaps the most exciting part of the summit was the one not on the agenda. A day before the event, the AR Supreme Court released a controversial ruling on the state's school funding system, one which jeopardizes fair funding for Arkansas schools. Our allies quickly pulled together a press release and coordinated a very well-attended press conference on the opening night of the summit. You can read our summary and analysis of the ruling here, and read our allies' reactions in their press release here. (Pictured left: Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation speaking at the press conference.)
Court rulings aside, there were plenty of other exiting moments at the summit.
Our friends at the Applied Research Center (ARC) held a racial justice training that helped advocates identify structural racism in our society and in our school system and develop organizing strategies to counter it. Bernadette Devone, Organize Director for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, described the training as "an eye opener."
"We know racism exists, but the way they [ARC] showed the larger frame and explained the different types of racism lets you begin to take yourself out of it, look at the bigger picture and identify why people do the things they do and how you can react to it. I never really thought about it that way. I never saw the larger picture of how it all comes together in systemic ways."
Other allies held workshops and panels on federal and state programs to combat poverty; the Arkansas DREAM Act; expanding access to pre-K; how to foster collaboration between parents, educators and community members; and the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. And a panel of youth representatives talked about the importance both of having a youth voice in the education reform debate and of building bridges across the age divide.
Speaking of youth advocates, another highlight of the summit was getting to read essays by the winners of the summit's student essay contest. The students wrote in answer to the prompt "Why an Opportunity to Learn is important to me." We can't stress enough how much we appreciate our youth allies. They're the ones in the classroom, after all, and to see them fighting for the resources they and their classmates need to succeed couldn't be more inspiring. So hats off to Salonica Hunter, Zipporah Bell and Zaria McCants, the three essay contest winners. Read their winning essays here!