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  • Forum for Western Pennsylvania Superintendents convenes around SEL

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 6/3/2024

    As Tom Ralston planned to convene the Forum for Western Pennsylvania Superintendents this May, the main topic for discussion seemed obvious: social-emotional learning.

    “It’s at the top of the of superintendents. Focusing on learning without focusing on social-emotional health is pointless, because if kids are not in a good place with their social-emotional health, they’re really not going to learn at their optimal level,” said Ralston an assistant professor and director of the Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents at the University of Pittsburgh. 

    “They have to feel a sense of belonging and self-worth. We were already concerned about kids before the pandemic. We knew this digital age has a lot of challenges for kids. But certainly the pandemic has accentuated those things.”

    The Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents meets twice a year – once in the Fall and once in the Spring. Founded in 1994, the forum is composed of 55 superintendents throughout the region. Each meeting has a different, relevant topic. The intention, though, is always to provide a unique professional development opportunity, where superintendents can discuss and learn from their direct peers.

    “We want them to focus on two things: learning and their own health. Superintendent jobs are really difficult. It’s incredibly stressful,” said Ralston. “One of the really important things about bringing these folks together is there’s only one superintendent in a school. It’s a lonely job. And when we come together, it’s a time for folks to lean on one another and support one another.”

    This time around, Ralston thought that social-emotional learning would be a relevant topic, knowing just how much schools have shifted their attention to mental health — especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. May’s meeting took place from May 1 to May 3 at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, PA. The meeting was supported by Project SEEKS SES, a wide-ranging grant partnership between the AIU, ACHD and local school districts and universities.

    Among those that presented throughout the meetings were Dr. Junlei Li, Dr. Shannon Wanless, Dr. Tammy Hughes, Jennifer Ehehalt, and Dr. John Balash. Dr. Ehehalt led a presentation on digital well-being and social media use, while Dr. Balash led a hands-on activity involving LEGOS that focused on utilizing building and hands-on activities to build relationships with kids.

    Dr. Li was the headliner, leading a presentation titled, ‘What’s In Your Toothpaste? – Strengthening the Relational Foundation of Learning and Social-Emotional Well-Being in Schools’. 

    “He’s an excellent presenter, and he’s done some really cool research on social-emotional health, especially with young children and the importance of relational health, like how you relate to children and how important even the simplest interactions can be,” Ralston said of Dr. Li.

    Ralston said that the goal of each meeting is for the superintendents to have takeaways that they can implement in their schools, while also having their thought process and beliefs stretched.

    “I really want them to be pushed outside their comfort zone, and to question what they believe and why they believe it,” Ralston said.

    On that account, Ralston believes the meetings were extremely successful and beneficial, evidently giving superintendents the tools to push their school districts forward.

    “The speakers stressed that SEL isn’t something that we want you to add to your plate. It’s not a program that you buy, it’s really about a mindset and taking what you’re already doing and putting that social-emotional lens to it. It’s more so teaching your teachers and the other people in the school how important it is to build relationships with students,” said Ralston. 

    “They shouldn’t just look at you as a teacher. And that begins with us at universities. When we’re preparing teachers who are going into the field, we need to incorporate that into our classrooms and into our programs, so that students understand the importance of mentorship and how you do that really well.”

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  • The University of Pittsburgh holds culminating SEL community of practice at the AIU

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/15/2024

    On May 22, the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Child Development brought together a large, diverse group of people at the AIU for a community of practice centered around SEL (social-emotional learning).

    Since October, Wanless and the Office of Child Development have led meetings that bring together faculty and staff from six higher education institutions in the county. During each meeting, a carefully chosen picture book centered around a SEL topic is read and discussed. Simultaneously, family centers and families, elementary schools, school leaders and early childhood providers around Allegheny County have also been having meetings focused around the same SEL topic and book each month.

    With support from Project SEEKS SES, a grant partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), ten school districts and three universities that explores a variety of resources to address trauma, behavior and mental health supports for students and staff, the Office of Child Development has been able to lead this series of community of practice meetings.

    During this culminating meeting in the series, entitled 'Cultivating Hope', the group came together to read 'The Me I Choose to Be', a book by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley. Each page of the colorful, picture-laden book is "an immersive call for self-love that highlights the inherent beauty of all black and brown children. "

    Further, the group led discussions about the future of SEL in Allegheny County, as well as how they can leverage their strengths to improve the future of children in the area.

    The Young Dreamers' Bookstore, a Pittsburgh-based bookstore focused on selling books that feature diverse representation, was also present at the event to share resources.

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  • Project SEEKS SES holds virtual community of practice focused on East Allegheny's Behavioral Specialist Implementation

    Posted by AIU on 4/23/2024 12:00:00 PM

    A screenshot of guests during the April Community of Practice session by Project SEEKS SES

    On April 17, the AIU and ACHD Project SEEKS SES held its ninth virtual community of practice meeting – the final one for the 2023-24 school year. In the meeting, administrators at East Allegheny School District spoke about the implementation of Behavior Specialists to their staff as part of grant funding provided by SEEKS. 

    East Allegheny Acting Superintendent Joe DiLucente and Director of Education Barbara Pagan spoke about the district’s approach with SEL and the SEEKS funding’s impact, providing increased mental health support and services benefiting both students and teachers. 

    Funding allowed East Allegheny officials to seek new ways to assist students and came across a model in which behavior specialists were both student-facing and working with teachers to develop behavior modification and classroom management strategies at the classroom level. DiLucente said classrooms began “experiencing sharp gains very early,” such as students having plans for de-escalation, behavior specialists working with special education specialists on their functional behavioral assessments, and positive feedback from teachers. 

    One new support method is a referral form teachers can easily fill out to provide context prior to a behavior specialist going into the classroom. 

    Each community of practice meeting focuses on a shared topic of interest between school district, higher education, and community partners. Each meeting is led by the Project SEEKS SES coordinator, Shannon Fagan, in conjunction with a school district/university partner and subject-matter expert. The Community of Practice meetings will resume this fall. 

    For a video of the Community of Practice meeting, click here. 

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  • BEST program helps Duquesne City emotional support students blossom

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 4/17/2024

    To most students, Bill Sanders and George Tyler are known by their students as Mr. Sanders and Mr. Tyler. For one student, though, Sanders is known as ‘dad’ and Tyler is known as ‘big dog’.

    Sanders and Tyler are members of the Duquesne City School District’s Behavioral and Emotional Support Team — or BEST program for short. The six-person team — which is supervised by Benetta Thomas – is staffed by Pressley Ridge and placed in the district’s three emotional support classrooms as Student Intervention Specialists. 

    Their job — in brief — is to provide an additional level of support and guidance in three emotional support classrooms, which are separated into the K-2, 3-5 and 6-8 grade levels. In order to do their job well, though, it’s imperative that they build uniquely strong relationships with their students. So strong, in fact, that some students might look at them as father figures or role models.

    “I try to be everything for them,” Sanders said.

    The BEST program started at the Duquesne City School District in the 2022-23 school year. Sanders and Tyler were on the ground floor of the project, working first in the K-2 classroom. This school year, the program expanded from two to six team members, with support from Project SEEKS SES,  a partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), ten school districts and three universities to explore a variety of resources to address trauma, behavior and mental health supports for students and staff.

    Students put into emotional support classrooms exhibit challenging behaviors, like difficulty establishing relationships or utilizing coping skills. Hence, all of the BEST program is trained in CPI (Crisis Prevention Intervention), trauma-informed practices, and restorative practices, making them well-qualified to help students manage these behaviors.

    “Overall, I think it’s been really good and it’s helped our teachers to be able to function in that space with a strong emotional support program,” said Rachel Butler-Pardi, the district’s Mental Health and Behavior Support Coordinator. “It’s a very cohesive model where they’re working together and learning to identify any of the challenges.”

    The BEST team is carefully crafted, with a special focus put on hiring team members that are from or familiar with the Duquesne City School District. Tyler is a 2007 graduate of the district, while Sanders also attended the school before moving on to graduate from the East Allegheny School District.

    Being able to return to their home district has been quite gratifying, Tyler and Sanders agreed. But beyond that, it’s helped them develop strong relationships with the students, knowing they can bond over a common ground of having once walked the same hallways.

    “We’re from the community and kind of know the kids outside of school. We know their parents well, and we know some of their stories. We just try to be there for them,” said Sanders.

    “When you come here, it’s just like a family. You get to love these kids from their stories, and just knowing their history. You just try to make them succeed.”

    The number of success stories are countless. Tyler remembers a student that would consistently roam the hallways, but now stays in class. Another student seldom would talk to anybody, but now will initiate conversations with a number of people. Another student, in Sanders’ words, was “doing the most” and wouldn’t come to class.

    “We had a week or two with her. After that she would hug me when she got it in there and we got her milk and cereal. Every week we made progress,” Sanders said.

    Beyond anecdotes, Pamela Zackel-Dunnabeck, the district’s Director of Special Education Services, said that both regular education and special education teachers, as well as administrative staff, have seen a decrease in the intensity of the behaviors of the students that are participating in the BEST program. Behavioral data is collected monthly and compared to the previous month’s and last year’s data.

    Jenna Guido and Amber Toner — both emotional support teachers in the district — said that the BEST program’s support has been instrumental in their classrooms. Guido noted how she often teaches the value of coping skills for her students, and that the BEST program is able to help them utilize those skills by taking them on walks. Butler-Pardi, additionally, said she’s been able to bring extra programming into the emotional support classrooms — like Venture Outdoors — due to the extra level of support in the classrooms.

    “The kids have such a good rapport with them. That is helpful to have those extra people to go to. Sometimes they want to work next to them because they really love them,” Toner said. “And I think any type of connection that our kids can make is helpful for them. Any positive relationship is so beneficial.”

    With the help of the BEST team, Guido said it’s been most gratifying seeing her students progress and recognize their own potential. Students that once might’ve dreaded coming to school are now eagerly awaiting it, knowing they’ve got plenty of friends waiting for them.

    “Our kids want to come to class in the morning. They’re there as soon as the doors open in our rooms. There’s a difference now in their motivation. They want to come to class and they want to do better for themselves,” said Guido.

    “They can do so much, and they might’ve not known that. But with that extra support, they can see it. It’s like an aha moment.”

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  • The AIU's Project SEEKS SES holds an Educator Self-Care Day

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 4/15/2024

    In a time when teacher burnout and staff shortages are especially relevant issues in education, Gina Walter believes it's important for educators to practice what they preach.

    “I think it’s really important that we as educators learn to take care of ourselves,” said Walter, a high school counselor at the Cornell School District. “I think that if we don’t take care of ourselves and be healthy emotionally, socially and physically, then we have to think about if we’re being helpful for the kids that we’re teaching."

    On April 15, Walter was one of a large, diverse group of educators from throughout the region that attended an Educator Self-Care Day at the AIU. The purpose of the event was to connect attendees with a number of resources and self-care methods that they could take with them into their personal and professional lives.

    Ursula Lesis, an organizational development consultant, coach, facilitator, and educator, started the day with a keynote speech entitled, ‘Permission for Self-Care: Embracing Vulnerability, Resilience, & Awareness’.

    Attendees then separated into breakout sessions for lessons — many of them hands-on — throughout the building. Among the many activities, attendees participated in yoga, meditation, mindful movement, forest bathing, sound baths and pet therapy.

    “I’ve never been to an event like this before,” said Abby Longwell, the assistant principal at Cornell High School.

    “A lot of times we’re told things that we can do and what we should do in schools, but in this one we’re actually sitting there and doing it. So to be able to actually sit in a sound bath and experience that, to learn about therapy dogs and actually play with them, to do mindful movement, it was really helpful.”

    Longwell and Walter concurred that they’ll look to bring some of the skills learned back into their district, especially making note of the sound baths and pet therapy. Down the road, they're p;anning to hold an educator wellness day for their district. The day offered plenty of ideas for the event.

    “We talk about incorporating wellness and mindfulness and therapeutic services to our students, but a lot of times as staff members, we don’t take that initiative to help ourselves,” said Longwell. “So an event like this opens doors, and you get to learn new skills that you can implement into your everyday life.”

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  • Non-public school counselors learn about SEL and implementation techniques

    Posted by Junior Gonzalez on 4/4/2024 11:15:00 AM

    Counselors in the AIU Non-Public Schools Program recently received crucial training to integrate supports for social-emotional learning (SEL) at their respective schools.  

    Led by presentations from Dr. Shannon Wanless, Director of the Office of Child Development in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, and Shanna Bradfield, a Behavior Training and Consultation Coordinator at the AIU, staff were exposed to an array of evidence on SEL program effectiveness as well as how to choose and implement the right SEL approach for their classes and schools.

    "When I think about social-emotional learning, I think how a school 'feels,'" Wanless said. Wanless utilized the book “A Day with No Words” by Tiffany Hammond to demonstrate various aspects of social-emotional learning.

    The talks were organized in partnership with the initiative Supporting Expansion and Enhancement of K-12 School-Based Social, Emotional Supports (SEEKS SES), a project funded by the Allegheny County Health Department and managed by the AIU. This project has afforded our school district personnel to explore various aspects of school-based social-emotional supports within their districts and communities.   

    Bradfield echoed Wanless’ sentiment in her talk, which focused on how SEL fits into a Multi-Tiered System of Supports. "We can have awesome things in place (but) if we don't have those connections with kids or they don't have good connections with each other, we still see struggles, Bradfield said."

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  • University of Pittsburgh SEL community of practice brings together large group at the AIU

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 4/1/2024

    When Shannon Wanless talks about social-emotional learning (SEL), her eyes light up. Wanless, the director of the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh, has long been a proponent of SEL, and the value of teaching it to children as soon as possible. But until this point, she has never been more optimistic about the spread of SEL in the greater Pittsburgh area.


    “I feel more hopeful about SEL than ever, because I think we’re starting to take ownership that it’s just not the school’s responsibility. Social-emotional learning is about building relationships and how to be together with each other in our community. And that’s everyone. That’s families, that’s libraries, that’s out of school time, that’s universities,” said Wanless. “The opportunity to get everyone in the room together and start to imagine how we all take ownership over this and really build the community we want to live in feels like the first time of many, many more.”


    With support from Project SEEKS SES, a grant partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), ten school districts and three universities that explores a variety of resources to address trauma, behavior and mental health supports for students and staff, Wanless and the Office of Child Development have been able to spearhead a wide-ranging community of practice centered around SEL. 



    Since October, Wanless and the Office of Child Development have led meetings that bring together faculty and staff from six higher education institutions in the county. During each meeting, a carefully chosen picture book centered around a SEL topic is read and discussed. Simultaneously, family centers and families, elementary schools, school leaders and early childhood providers around Allegheny County have also been having meetings focused around the same SEL topic and book each month.


    During a meeting at the AIU on March 28, all of these groups came together to discuss what they’ve learned thus far, while also reading and discussing ‘A Day With No Words’, a book by Tiffany Hammond centered around a non-verbal, autistic child. The opportunity to bring such a diverse group of people around a primary goal – spreading SEL — was rare.


    “I’m just overjoyed. It was a culminating moment of bringing all of the different groups together for the very first time, and feeling that level of energy, excitement and hope in the room makes me see we’ve got a strong path forward,” said Wanless. 


    “The reason that we do this in a community of practice is because we want to build relationships among the people that are there because we know that change doesn’t happen with one person alone. Big changes happen when we all come together and support each other.”


    During the meeting, Jamie Upshaw, the founder & Executive Director of Autism Urban Connections, Inc, led a presentation called ‘Intersectionality: Autism, Gender & Race’. Upshaw shared her experience as a mother with a child on the autism spectrum.


    Books like ‘A Day With No Words’ — centered around representation — are common within the community of practice. Marla Woody, a reading specialist at Urban Academy of Greater Pittsburgh, said sharing books with diverse representation has been helpful in her practice.


    “I think it’s important for students to have a sense of belonging, to feel safe, to feel accepted. To feel safe in their environment and feel that people accept them and see them regardless of what issues or circumstances they're dealing with or have,” said Woody.


    Participants across the community of practice have lauded its effectiveness. Christal Edmunds, a professor at Point Park University, said the meetings have helped strengthen what she’s already been doing in her classes. Effectively, she’s been able to better teach her classes of future educators about ways to implement SEL in the classroom.


    Vincenne Revilla, also a professor at Point Park University, echoed those thoughts, noting how the meetings have helped inspire her and her colleagues to develop a special endorsement for social-emotional learning that will soon be offered to students. Revilla also noted how her and her colleagues will soon be going to England to meet with schools and universities in the area, partially around SEL. She plans to share details about the community of practice.


    “When we’ve left each meeting, we’ve been able to reflect on the content, and it’s strengthened our passion and also focused our work more intentionally,” said Revilla “This program that started out of the University of Pittsburgh’s efforts, there’s a ripple effect now, and we’re going to tell the story about what we’ve done here and how it’s benefited us as professionals.”


    The social-emotional learning community of practice will continue through May, culminating with another meeting at the AIU. 

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  • Cornell Wellness Rooms help strengthen the district's mental/behavioral health supports

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 3/21/2024

    When asked for feedback about the wellness rooms in his district — and the behavioral health specialist and behavioral health technician who staff them — Cornell superintendent Aaron Thomas is rather direct.

    “I couldn’t be happier,” said Thomas. 

    This school year, the Cornell School District transformed two rooms in the school into wellness rooms — essentially mental health hubs. Rachael Quesenberry is the district’s behavioral consultant, while Jacob Gettle is the behavioral health technician. Both work in the district through Wesley Family Services. The wellness rooms are supported by Project SEEKS SES, a partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), ten school districts and three universities to explore a variety of resources to address trauma, behavior and mental health supports for students and staff.

    “They’ve done a wonderful job of getting to know our teachers and our students,” Thomas said of Quesenberry and Gettle. “You’re just seeing a greater comfort level there, and now you’re seeing certain kids who need the check-ins and certain kids that need the support are getting them.”

    Thomas said he believes there’s always been a need for greater behavioral and mental health support in school districts. In the years after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomas said that need was magnified. That made adding Quesenberry and Gettle an easy choice, once funds became available.

    “I think it’s shed light and made social-emotional learning part of our common language and our common understanding of what social-emotional learning is, and behavioral health and mental health,” Thomas said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it’s also normalized that it’s OK to get burned out, or frustrated or have anxiety.”

    Quesenberry and Gettle have quickly fit in well into the district. Once the rooms started to come into form – and the two started in the district — they began bringing students together in the rooms for introductory activities, while also asking them for feedback for what they’d like to see.

    “A lot of what’s in the rooms is influenced by the kids,” said Quesenberry.

    Quesenberry supports the whole school, while Gettle largely supports elementary-aged students. The two both help out with a student when they’re in crisis, but do most of their work based on referral forms from staff. Once a referral is received, it goes through the student assistance program — looking to see what supports already might be in place — before determining that Quesenberry and Gettle are needed.

    When that’s determined, a form is sent out to a parent or guardian before Quesenberry and Gettle meet with the student to map out a plan and next steps.

    Of the students they’ve worked with, Quesenberry and Gettle believe they’ve been able to make a big impact.

    “We definitely see marked improvement within the classrooms when we get feedback from the teachers. Kids that were doing cartwheels and flipping off desks and stuff are now not doing that. They’re able to sit in their chair, focus and are really thriving academically. They’re really kind to their peers,” said Gettle 

    “Ultimately, independence is something we very much strive for. We are able to offer support and guidance, but once a kid can do it on their own, we really try to back off.”

    Cornell Elementary Principal Jeff Carter lauded Gettle and Quesenberry’s work, especially noting their ability to smoothly navigate crisis situations. Before the two came onboard, Carter noted how crisis situations would oftentimes fall on his shoulders. He’s been happy to back off and place those situations in Gettle and Quesenberry’s capable hands, as they assist students in regulating and evidently being able to thrive academically.

    “It’s such an impact with the kids. I know they’re not therapists, but I almost consider it therapy,” Carter said. “Thanks to the wellness rooms, kids are getting the help that they need. They’re doing a great job, and for kids that need the next level, they’re doing a great job of expediting that process.”

    Gettle and Quesenberry are able to do their jobs well not just due to their qualifications, but also because of their kind and thoughtful demeanor. While Gettle might have the title of a behavioral health technician, he likes to think of himself as something simpler: a friend.

    “I want to be a friend, just as much as what my actual title is. I want to be someone they can talk to and feel comfortable with,” said Gettle “If you’re connecting with them when they’re in Kindergarten, hopefully that connection stays as the years go on.”

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  • Project SEEKS SES holds virtual community of practice around West Mifflin's fitness rooms

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 3/21/2024

    A picture of a Teams screen during a community of practice meeting

    On March 20, the AIU and Project SEEKS SES held its eighth virtual community of practice meeting. During the meeting, the West Mifflin School District and the University of Pittsburgh talked about their partnership through Project SEEKS SES. 

    Due to grant support, the West Mifflin School District has been able to create two fitness rooms stocked with fitness equipment and counseling services. To read more about that initiative, click here.

    Noelle Haney, West Mifflin's Director of Pupil Services, presented during the meeting. You can view her presentation here.

    Additionally, Elizabeth Miller, a Professor of Pediatrics, Public Health and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh, shared details about the Pittsburgh Study, among other initiatives. You can view her slides here.

    Each community of practice meeting focuses on a shared topic of interest between school district, higher education and community partners. Each meeting is led by the Project SEEKS SES coordinator, Shannon Fagan, in conjunction with a school district/university partner and subject-matter expert. 

    For video of the community of practice meeting, click here.

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  • University of Pittsburgh takes teaching students to SXSW EDU

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 3/18/2024

    In education, Tom Ralston is a firm believer in the value of stepping out of the regular day-to-day and broadening horizons.

    With that in mind, Ralston thought about ways he could help energize teaching students and professors at the University of Pittsburgh, and take them out of their regular schedules. With support from Project SEEKS SES, a wide-ranging grant partnership between the AIU, ACHD and local school districts and universities, Ralston organized a trip to SXSW EDU, a yearly education conference in Austin, Texas that runs from March 4-7. 

    Taking 27 people in total — with that group encompassing undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students and professors — the experience was eye-opening and reinvigorating.

    “My heart is on fire for education again after hearing so many impactful sessions from professionals,” said one student.

    “As an undergraduate, I never expected to be present at a conference surrounded by such amazing individuals. Not only did I gain much knowledge and experience from Pitt faculty, students, and staff, but what I learned from educators across the country is invaluable,” said another student.

    Ralston, an assistant professor and director of the Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents at the University of Pittsburgh, said he’s been to SXSW EDU before, and was blown away by the breadth of the conference. According to the SXSW EDU website, the conference features “renowned speakers, thought leaders, and industry experts” and covers “a wide range of topics, providing attendees with valuable insights, inspiration, and actionable takeaways to drive positive change in education.”

    “It’s a really good conference. It has a wide variety of different workshops, presenters and speakers. There’s something there for everyone, and it leads you to have a really diverse audience,” said Ralston.

    “I’m trying to energize our students and faculty. It’s rare that folks have the opportunity to go to a conference like this, especially students.”

    Over the course of the trip, Ralston said he was focused on consuming a number of workshops, especially focusing on social and emotional learning. Among workshops that stuck out to Ralston, one speaker focused on the value of bringing comedy to teaching, while another talked about how to ensure that neurodivergent students are cared for in the classroom. One student raved about hearing from Kimberle Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of critical race theory.

    “We came home with really solid tools,” Ralston said.

    With such a diverse group of students and professors on the trip, Ralston said an added bonus was the relationship building that formed, uniting students and professors that might not usually engage with each other.

    “It was really interesting. We saw this organic relationship building among our group. People who didn’t know each other got to know each other really well over the four days we were there. They built some really solid relationships that I think will continue in the future,” Ralston said.

    Now that attending students and professors have had a chance to marinate on what they learned over the trip, Ralston is hopeful and confident that the conference will act as a tool for inspiration. At its core, that was the main point of the trip, to not just provide a unique opportunity to attend such a large conference, but to springboard students and professors in their learning and teaching.

    “For the professors, I hope that it has some impact for the classes they teach. For the students, it could be inspiration for the work ahead of them and further work they plan to do,” Ralston said. 

    “I’ve always believed that we have to get out of our own area to learn more and to hear other perspectives. This provides a whole different lens to look through. I think it’ll be a huge inspiration for them.”

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