The ‘Whoas’ of 2016

Note from Matt: Today we’re turning over the EASTWord to the “man behind the curtain,” Spencer Watson. Spencer is our Communications Manager and my editor-in-residence (not an easy job). Spencer wanted to apply his super power to the blog. I’ll visit with you again on the other side of 2017, but until then….


Spencer Watson, Communications Manager
The EAST Initiative

As a former journalist (with residual journalistic tendencies), I feel comfortable offering some insight into one of the tricks of the trade. At this time of year, it sometimes can be really hard to get stories done. Schools and offices are closed. People are on vacation to visit family. Reporting is a challenge. Hence, the year-in -review. The newspaper still has to go out, so it’s a quick fix to simply look back at what happened by scouring the archives. No outside reporting needed!

Of course, it’s also instructive. I have little doubt you’ll see many year-in-review pieces this year in particular. Between all the notable losses in the pop culture world and the, ahem, unusual year of politics, these pieces will be commonplace.

If social media is any indication, quite a few folks are ready to see 2016 out the door, and I won’t quibble with looking forward — or mourning our losses. But, I gotta say, at EAST it’s been a great year!

ar hubFor many, January began with fireworks and toasts, and for us those continued after the wee hours of New Year’s Day. In the middle of the month, EAST celebrated the anniversary of a one-year partnership with the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in downtown North Little Rock. With help from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and AT&T, EAST and the Hub celebrated the success of the unique learning environment that is the STEAM Lab.

Though March was still early in 2016, it was nearing the end of the school year, and EAST was as busy as it ever gets with #EASTcon16. Themed to commemorate 20 years of EAST in the classroom, we gathered thousands of students and educators throughout EAST and celebrated the work they had been doing since the prior August (or even earlier). That celebration culminated with the naming of Harrison Junior high School as the winners of the Timothy R. Stephenson Founder’s Award at Conference.


2016 Founder’s Award Winner
Harrison Junior High School

1559In April, the awards continued. Mary Beth Hatch, facilitator at the aforementioned Harrison Junior High School, was named a digital innovator in Arkansas by PBS, a pair of students from Springdale’s Helen Tyson Middle School won statewide accolades for a project submitted to the Girls of Promise Tech contest, and a former EAST student finishing off his undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas won a full scholarship to work on a master’s at Cambridge. What a month!

In May, when most students are thinking about the year winding down, at EAST we were thinking about the year winding up. We announced 12 new schools being added to the family for the 2016-2017 school year, bringing us up to 236.

_mg_9367Summer brought us Tech Camp and Summer Seminar in Harrison, where facilitators were engaged in three days of professional development exploring new technology, talking about best practices and networking with colleagues throughout EAST.

August brought us a new school year, as well as a new feature to the EAST website. The new Project Page launched to show off the amazing work students are doing.


Come September, we bid a bittersweet farewell to EAST Founder Tim Stephenson, who officially retired from the organization. Meanwhile, we also grew with the addition of new staff in site support, and then grew again in November by adding a new Director of Information Technology.

_mg_0135In the meantime, EAST welcomed the world into our headquarters for Encounter EAST, a chance to learn about the Initiative and the work staff, students and facilitators do every day. Within a couple weeks, schools throughout EAST were also opening their doors and showing off their projects as EAST Night Out was underway.


img_0162By the end of October, we were preparing to travel out to California to be honored by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, which named the EAST Initiative an innovator in education. EAST was one of only four such organizations recognized and the only one outside of California to be honored. Needless to say, we were excited.

Which brings us to December and more exciting news. EAST received a grant from the Delta Regional Authority to strengthen the workforce pipeline by establishing three new programs in the Arkansas Delta during the 2017-2018 school year.


Given all that, it’s fair to say we’re ready to bid 2016 farewell, just as a lot of people are. But our motivation is that we’re looking forward to what 2017 will bring. If it’s anything like the last year, it’s hard to say we’ll have much to complain about.

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