Cassie Schwerner speaking at the 3rd annual
Arkansas OTL Campaign Summit.
On October 3rd and 4th I had the great honor to attend the 3rd Arkansas OTL Summit. Arkansas' organizers and advocates really know how to put on a show!
This year's summit was a wonderful balance of presentations, workshops and small discussion groups that explored OTL priorities in the coming year. Workshops ran the gamut on issues from grade-level reading, Common Core, special education and the DREAM Act to community-school partnerships, extended learning time and expanding quality pre-k.
A major highlight for me was this year's youth panel discussion titled "Developing the Next Generation of Youth Leadership." In this panel, young people spoke from their own vantage point, some as LGBT youth and others as DREAMers, sharing their own aspirations for changing educational practices and policies and the ways in which parents, students and other community members need to be part of policy reform.
Youth panelists at the summit
A second highlight was the winners of this year's student essay contest, who wrote poignantly on the topic of why an opportunity to learn was important to them. The winners, Ramiro and Myra Corpulis, drew from their own experience when describing the importance of education. As Myra put it, "An education is the key to life. An education can take you wherever you want. [...] Why be a cashier when you can be president? Why be a construction worker when you can be an architect? An education can do all of those things."
Student Essay Contest winners Ramiro
and Myra Corpulis
The summit ended with a phenomenal keynote from Professor Francisco Guajardo from the University of Texas-Pan American. Francisco used the power of storytelling to share the importance of having pride in one's identity and the power of culturally relevant educational experiences both inside and outside the classroom. Francisco's father, who never had a formal education, brought him and his three siblings from Mexico, and all four children have gone on to earn Ph.D.s or run their own business. His father's story became a metaphor for Francisco about the importance of understanding of and taking pride in your identity. Francisco's narrative, at its core, was giving the young people in the audience the permission to embrace their own identities and recognize that studying your own history sometimes can be the most fulfilling aspect of education.
Professor Francisco Guajar
After finishing his story, Francisco shared that he was inspired by those who had gathered for the summit, acknowledging that "in this country, power is organized in two different ways: power in money and power organized in people."
It was wonderful to be with such a diverse group of 200 of the state's most dedicated parents, teachers, students and community members, and I look forward to watching and supporting this movement in the coming years.
As I frequently mention in communities across the country, the Arkansas OTL Campaign is quite exceptional. The lead partners (Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and the Rural Community Alliance) have built a racially and ethnically diverse coalition that is also diverse by class, geography and sector: advocates and organizers meet regularly with elected officials, school administrators and superintendents, members of the philanthropic community and faith leaders.
I want to give a special shoutout to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, who partnered with the Schott Foundation as the three early funders of this campaign, and the Arkansas Education Association, which has stood with this coalition from Day 1.
The weekend before the summit, I was able to join labor and community activists from the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools from 25 cities across the country. It was wonderful to watch members of these state and city delegations learn from each other. A memorable moment was when a delegate from Newark, NJ stood up and proclaimed that they had been inspired by the delegation from Oklahoma. I have no doubt that if Arkansas had been in the house that weekend, everyone would have been inspired by them as well.