The national EAST Conference kicked off Tuesday at the Hot Springs Convention Center with the theme "EAST 360: A Revolution in Education."
The Education Accelerated by Service and Technology Initiative is a nonprofit organization with programs in schools focused on service-based learning that is technology-driven, student-led, and collaborative.
"We empower them to go into the community and solve problems with technology. So anything from water purification, all the way through to 3D printing prosthetic limbs. We have encouraged them to go into the community and to find a solution for a problem they have," said EAST Initiative Communications Coordinator Apryl Jackson.
Jackson estimates 3,000 students, educators, and guests from 248 schools from all EAST involved states will attend this year's conference.
"People need to get it. Everybody thinks they know what school is because everybody went to one. But this is educational accountability at its highest. Not a test score. This is doing. And it's life-changing," said EAST Initiative CEO Matt Dozier.
Hot Springs is more than happy to host EAST conferences, Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison said Tuesday.
"The best and brightest from across the United States come to our community. It's one of our favorite groups and we look forward to it every year. We're excited to have them back this year, and it just keeps getting bigger and better every year. It's incredible. You don't realize EAST is such a big program until you see them here all in one spot," he said.
Headquartered in Little Rock and founded over 20 years ago by Greenbrier High School teacher Tim Stephenson, the program now spans 255 elementary, middle, and high schools across Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania with 25,000 student participants.
According to organizational reports, EAST students completed 2,680,744 community service hours valued at more than $66 million to their local communities last school year.
Highlights of this year's conference will include representatives from the Facebook Education Modernization team presenting an exclusive demonstration to students, and a Stanford professor who will educate and collaborate with students on concussion issues by exploring a virtual reality brain.
The conference is used as a forum for EAST students and facilitators to display booths with their projects, initiatives and community services to other EAST programs and exchange ideas.
"We are highlighting all of our projects that the students have developed and are working to complete by the end of the year. You highlight whatever project you want to show off. We are showing off our projects in child safety, school safety, work that we've done for local nonprofits, and then work that we're doing on a more global scale. Hosting a day in the life of a Syrian child. That's something we're doing in May," said Lakeside Middle School EAST facilitator Melissa Ellis.
"I think what the kids get out of EAST Conference is collaboration with other EASTs. They are able to exchange ideas and talk about things that work for them. It's an opportunity for them to share their outside of the box thinking, as well as it gives them an opportunity to show pride in the projects they've done," said Lake Hamilton High School EAST facilitator and business teacher Traci Britt.
Hot Springs Intermediate School EAST facilitator Rakaejah Williams said putting students in the program pre-high school is especially beneficial.
"I think it's preparing them for their career, career readiness. It's a lot of hands-on, a lot of technology, and our world is technology now. And they're getting that experience really young. I think that by the time they're in high school, they're going to be ready for the work world," she said.
"You get to experience new people's projects and you learn more about them and you can use their ideas to help build yours better. It's really fun and you get to meet new friends," said Hot Springs Intermediate School fifth-grader Georgia Ingram.
"To me, EAST Conference is really just a time to get together and share some ideas and kind of see what everyone in the community's been up to," said Lake Hamilton High School senior Amber Sheridan-Torrez.
"There's so many people here, you can easily interact with different kinds of people. There are job opportunities if you're a junior or senior. You can test what you can do with your mind. Overall it's just a great environment to be in," said Lakeside High School senior Blake Fehr.
Dozier said the conference prepares students for their futures.
"It's mountaintop experience. In a lot of ways, I think that it gives them a view of what the real world looks like. Because school isn't real. Probably never has been, but it's really not now. They get to demonstrate what they've been doing. They get to see what other people are doing. They get to learn from experts in the field. Our general sessions are one part tent revival and one part rock show," said Dozier.
Holding the annual conferences in Hot Springs has been a key element to their success, he said.
"Being in the natural, unique, but special place that is the national park and all that, the kind of artistic vibe ... Hot Springs is a unique and special town. It's a great thing because it's not a big sterile environment. It's a vibrant community," said Dozier.
The conference will continue through Thursday.
Local on 03/13/2019
Print Headline: EAST 360: Around 3,000 expected at annual conference