Cancellations to Connections: The NPEA 2021 Virtual Conference

April 29, 2021

By Amber McClarin

The National Partners for Educational Access (NPEA) is a membership organization that connects the people, practices, and innovations essential for eliminating barriers to educational access for underserved students. In the fall of 2019, IEA became a member of NPEA and planned on attending their Boston conference in April 2020. The pandemic hit in March and the conference was canceled.

NPEA pivoted quickly and hosted webinars and conversations to address the profound challenges of shuttering schools and programs. They facilitated conversations that addressed issues with technical, financial, logistical hurdles in addition to educational needs of moving programs and classes online. During the initial upheaval, NPEA was instrumental in bringing together a community of likeminded people and organizations whose collective intelligence was invaluable to solving problems that just a month prior were not issues!

In the summer of 2020, NEPA and The Steppingstone Foundation, decided to hold their 2021 conference virtually. Traditionally the planning committee is made up of local members from its home base in Boston who meet in person. With the conference virtual, so was the planning, allowing for non-local members to participate. In August I joined the NPEA planning committee.

We chose a theme (The Urgency of Now) and negotiated the language to use in the messaging and advertising. Over the months speakers and presenters were vetted, and sponsorships secured. We tested platform and discussed how to build in opportunities for meaningful connections, coffee breaks, after session drinks and meditation sessions. The focus of the committee was to support the community where it currently was, with most people at home, but all people in the midst of a health crisis navigating new terrain with an uncertain future.

After the past 13 months of connecting, collaborating, and working with people I have never met, NPEA held its first Virtual Conference April 27th – 29th 2021!

Not only was I a first-time attendee and volunteer, but also the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship program’s Senior Admissions Coordinator, Mallory Aldrich, presented Strong Community, Strong Students: How to Foster Growth in a Virtual Space! The conference felt like a new beginning! As people get their vaccines and COVID cases drop we will return to a new normal and I am grateful for the unique opportunity I had to connect and grow my community over our shared goal. Even though we could not be together, we ARE together in our mission for a just and equitable world for students.

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