Cast a Pebble in the Water and Watch the Circles Grow


Today’s guest writer is Ms. Sandy Williams, EAST Facilitator at Dardanelle High School, 2011 Timothy R. Stephenson Founder’s Award winner. Sandy is a nine-year veteran of EAST. Today she tells the story of the team’s long road to Conference and the Founder’s Award.

Tune in next week for reflections on the experience from student members of the Dardanelle EAST Conference team.

“Cast a pebble in the water and watch the circles grow.” In those words, I find the meaning of this year’s EAST Conference. As EAST facilitators, we are so privileged to watch our students become responsible and caring young adults. Throughout the conference process, I watched my students grow and mature, developing a solid foundation for their futures. And it all came together with the Founder’s competition, the pebble they cast into the waters.

From the beginning of the school year I felt that Dardanelle EAST would experience a different year from past years, because we had more returning students than previous years. Based on the EAST philosophy of providing students the opportunity to expand their skills each year, I knew that I also would experience something I had not experienced before. From day one, my mentor students had one plan in mind. “We are really going to ‘Do EAST’, Ms. Williams. Just watch us!” And I did — in amazement.

As of August 2010, mentor students were forming teams, brainstorming how to reach out to our school and our community with new ideas, bringing back old projects to reorganize, and setting goals for positive effects on our school and community. What constantly amazes me, even after almost nine years, is the fact that the students themselves do a fabulous job of facilitating learning. The Dardanelle EAST mentors created an atmosphere of learning and working for students new to the program. Within the first weeks, everyone was on board, working the objectives of EAST. These mentors set into motion what would be a very successful year. And the new EAST students were on the team to take the leap of faith with them!

Even before the release of Conference requirements, our team’s preparation had begun with a single notion: to go for the coveted Founder’s Award and earn a Superior Rating in the Program Impact Assessment judging. With those goals, our efforts began! The Conference team was chosen early in the year, to get thoughts and plans rolling. While working on other projects with other students, the Conference team laid their groundwork. They knew they had to tell their story of “Doing EAST” from every viewpoint and every perspective to present the whole picture.

The team brainstormed on the theme, “Dardanelle EAST…Right Click Here”. What do those words mean to us as EAST students? What is a good hook to use to tell our story? OPTIONS! Right-clicking gives us OPTIONS to choose what we will do next! OPTIONS give us choices to make as individuals to develop our skills. OPTIONS give us choices of “infinite design”.  With those thoughts, the 2011 EAST Conference came into focus.

When the EAST Initiative released Conference information and requirements, concrete preparation began. It included developing a timeline, monitoring the progress of other projects and devising  a way to unify various workbooks, server file folders and out-of-class conversations. Job responsibilities were assigned. For Founder’s requirements, a script began to take form. A basic storyboard was developed. B-roll film footage and photos began to fill up the server file. Plans were falling into place.

The result was organized chaos. The students were producing results in regular project work along with Conference work. Booth materials were stacked in corners with storage bins placed under computer tables. The classroom began to fill with old and new computer equipment from awarded grants. Booth posters were filling the plotter bin. But within the chaos, the students stayed focused on what was to be done and how. The long checklists of deadlines and tasks began to shorten. Nothing is more gratifying than drawing a line through a completed task or checking off a deadline met.

The excitement reached its peak the morning of March 1 when we were off to the 2011 EAST Conference with the feeling of a job well done, regardless of the outcome. The team had set out to accomplish a great Conference experience, and that they did.

Looking back on the journey to Conference, I am amazed at the dedication and amount of hard work each student was willing to do for success. There were many challenges to overcome and problems to solve. There were some funny moments, even a few tears and an occasional meltdown. There was a huge amount of stress on the entire team, but they worked through it. My students “cast a pebble in the water and watched the circles grow.” What began with a goal of entering the Founder’s competition and earning a Superior PIA rating brought the team to new heights of accomplishment. They knew it would be difficult. They had to build a dedicated team, learn new technology, design and construct a presentation booth, work within a specific time frame, be highly creative and inventive. They had to and tell a good story. As a result, the pebble cast into the water created endless waves that grew.

To the staff at EAST: I wish to thank each of you for providing my students with an awesome Conference experience. Congratulations! This year was the best by far! And Congratulations to the 10 Founder’s Award Finalists and Award of Excellence recipients Nettleton High School, Conwell Egan Catholic High School (PA) and Greenbrier High School for a job well done! And last, to our family of EAST facilitators: The Founder’s competition provides a huge learning opportunity for your kids and a framework to take a program to greater heights. Regardless of the outcome, the experience is so worth it to your students, and to you as a facilitator of EAST.

On a personal level, I am so very thankful for the support my students receive from our administration, our faculty, our parents and our community partners — our educational village. My students realize that they could not “Do EAST” without that reinforcement. They realize they could not attain the recognition and honor of the Founder’s award without the resources that are available to them. To all my EAST students: I am truly proud of each of you, and I know each of you will go forth and do great things with what you have learned by “Doing EAST”.

Sandy Williams, Dardanelle High School EAST Facilitator

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