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Three hundred students from around the country gathered at the Holiday Inn executive center Wednesday for the Minority Student Achievement Network: Student Conference, which lasts until Sept. 24.
CPS Minority Achievement Committee Scholars, the host of the 2011 MSAN Student Conference, welcomed the participants.
“I never thought Columbia Public School[s] would host the conference this soon,” Symone Thomas, the former MAC Scholar coordinator for the district, said, “But this truly is a historical moment for the students and Columbia.”
While this is the first time that Columbia has sponsored the MSAN Student Conference, the job comes as second nature to Columbia MAC scholars, as they have previously hosted two student-led conferences.
“To host a conference of this magnitude with the outstanding students attending is just awesome,” Thomas said. “It’s an enormous task but luckily Columbia Public School MAC Scholars have had their own mini-conference, ‘Failure is NOT an Option,’ which has helped to get them ready.”
As conference hosts, the duties of the students include not only greeting participants but also creating a theme, planning out the basis of the agenda and organizing the activities for all four days.
In May the students chose the theme, “Defy the Stats: by Defining yourself.” The agenda, which the students also planned, included activities such as a day at University of Missouri-Columbia, achievement gap discussions and action planning, giving the students time to make their own plan for success.
Thomas said in order to make a successful conference it was important to have insight from students who had previously attended.
Senior Malachi Matthews, who attended the 2010 MSAN conference in New York, chose to be a part of the student planning committee for this year’s MSAN conference.
“Last year as part of our activities [at the conference] we looked at statistics on minority dropout rates, which made me want to make a change,” Matthews said. “While planning for this year I remembered and thought, ‘Hey, if it can reach me, then we can find things to certainly reach someone else.’”
Dr. Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said ideas like those of Matthews show why student input is vital to the process of understanding how to overcome the rates.
“We hope to accomplish a dialogue among students about issues of the achievement gap,” Brown said, “and more importantly, an action plan they can take back to their districts, to work on closing the achievement gap.”
Both Brown and Thomas agreed that in order to make the conference successful, the students are a necessity.
“Students know what students like,” Thomas said, “and students know what they will listen to and find engaging.”
Matthews said that overall he believes the students have created an excellent plan for the attendees.
“After all, [the plan] is what makes the conference standout.” Matthews said, “because without the student input, everyone wouldn’t find the conference enjoyable.”
By Mahogany Thomas