EAST programs are known for being innovative and able to adapt to new situations. This has certainly been proven accurate due to the fact that this year’s National Conference is being held in a way no one has ever experienced before. Traditionally, EAST conference is held in Hot Springs Arkansas over the span of three days in which over 250 programs from all over the country attend. The purpose of conference is to allow students and facilitators to interact with other programs to learn and grow from each other’s experiences. Due to the unprecedented circumstances, EAST Conference is being held completely virtual this year.
Senior Madison Stamper and junior Hailey Greer are both members of the Har-Ber EAST conference team this year. They, along with their other teammates, have created a virtual booth in order to showcase the EAST programs projects this year to other students around the country.
“Since we didn’t get to go to Hot Springs like we normally would have, we’re doing it online through a site called Juno where you basically make your own website page within itself and you can look at other schools and their virtual booths as well,” Stamper said.
Generally, EAST programs are required to create a booth that illustrates their projects. This year, students spent their time creating digital portfolios and videos to showcase their projects. In their virtual booths, visitors are allowed to click on students’ faces in order to video call with them so they can present their projects to each other. Along with this, visitors are also able to browse through the information and pictures students have added to their virtual booths. Students are also given the opportunity to attend virtual breakout sessions in which sponsors and volunteers are able to present different skills and information such as learning how to use GIS mapping software and more.
“It’s really nice to be able to do conference virtually because we are able to really bond and get to know each other as a team and that’s something that you don’t really get to do at conference,” Greer said.
Not only are students able to form bonds within their program, but also with the members of the Hellstern Middle School EAST program. Due to the lack of space at Hellstern, Har-Ber facilitator Bill Mills invited the Hellstern program and their facilitator, Nicole Pena, to share this year’s conference experience together in the Dome room.
“It has been the most beneficial I think it could be because we are able to talk to each other about the projects and the things that we’re going to talk about with other programs,” Pena said. “We’ve been able to come together and do team building and just enjoy each others company with an older group to mentor the younger group and see that they can continue all the way to high school with EAST.”
Hellstern seventh-grader Reeves Aunspaugh has had the opportunity to experience both an in-person and virtual conference during his three years of being a part of the EAST programs at his schools. His new connections with the Har-Ber program are sure to last with him throughout his EAST career.
“They’ve taught us a lot and have helped us out a lot with stuff. With our skills and their skills, we’ve started to try and put new projects together that we can do. We are all very grateful for the opportunity to work alongside them,” Aunspaugh said.