Wouldn’t it be cool if a group of Austin ISD students got to share their Social and Emotional Learning experience with educators from all over the country–even the world? Say, at a national conference dedicated to defining and refining the kinds of educational practices that keep kids in school and prepare them for career and life success? Picture it: high-level professionals dedicated to figuring out what works best for young people in schools, listening to actual young people talk about what works best for them and their school. And the whole topic is Social and Emotional Learning. Sounds good right?
Well guess what…IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. On Tuesday, October 27th, Mr. Keeth Matheny of Austin High School took a group of 23 AHS students to facilitate a session with 180 educators at the National Dropout Prevention Network‘s annual conference. Mr. Matheny has been an active participant and frequent presenter at many NDPN conferences in years past; however, the national events have been held in places like Kentucky, Minnesota and Florida. When the 2015 conference was slated to be held in San Antonio, Mr. Matheny recognized a unique opportunity–it was time to get student voice in on the national education conversation!
The National Dropout Prevention Network paid for the transportation and registration of the 23 current and former MAPS students for that Tuesday. They attended plenary and break-out choice sessions alongside teachers and administrators, social workers and superintendents. Then, from 1:30-3:00, those students sat at the round tables among 180 adult participants from all over the country and world, and facilitated activities and discussions while Mr. Matheny led the presentation. The session was designed to provide educators with concrete student engagement strategies and authentic class experiences from the freshman seminar MAPS (Methods for Academic and Personal Success) course. This course has enjoyed such success at Austin High, other high schools in Austin, and even several in other parts of the country.
Mr. Matheny has been instrumental in designing and implementing MAPS, which uses a research-based Social and Emotional Learning curriculum to prepare freshmen for the personal and organizational challenges associated with high school and beyond. The AHS students represented cutting-edge Austin ISD Social and Emotional Learning tactics by facilitating activities from the MAPS class itself with the session participants. They also shared ways they have personally benefited from the course. This kind of student voice and involvement embedded in the session gave attendees an unprecedented and informative experience at the NDPN conference.
It takes a special kind of educator to recognize how valuable student voice would be in this national venue, and Keeth Matheny is a special kind of educator. In fact, as if getting students to the National Dropout Prevention Network conference wasn’t awesome enough, there is another reason why the 2015 conference was particularly exciting–Mr. Matheny received the highly prestigious National Dropout Prevention Network’s Crystal Star Award of Excellence. According to their website,
“The purpose of the National Dropout Prevention Network (NDPN) Crystal Star Awards of Excellence in Dropout Recovery, Intervention, and Prevention is to identify and bring national recognition to outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of the mission of the NDPN.”
The fact that Mr. Matheny received this award that morning in the presence of his family, colleagues, administrators and students represents the best of Austin Independent School District.