Education conference at Beaver Creek hopes to create ‘ripple effects’ for rural communities |

Education conference at Beaver Creek hopes to create ‘ripple effects’ for rural communities

PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Education Conference brings more than 250 educators to Beaver Creek

By Tom Boyd
Special to the Daily
PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference States in attendance:
  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.

BEAVER CREEK — What do Hooks, Texas, Del Norte, Colorado, and Brownsville, Tennessee have in common?

One thing is their struggle to provide quality afterschool academic and enrichment programs for their community’s young people.

For the first time ever, rural and resort educators from around the nation were able to collaborate, discuss these issues, and share wisdom at the PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Education Conference. The three-day conference, which began Wednesday and wrapped Friday, was hosted by the Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek.

More than 250 people attended the event.

“The impact of this event will have ripple effects for a long time to come. Everyone I spoke with was passionate and engaged, and dedicated to ensuring a better future for the young people in their community,” said Sarah Johnson, the vice president of education and the arts for the Vail Valley Foundation. “It’s heartening to know that everyone who came will be able to go back to their community not only with what they’ve learned here, but with a new network of connections.”

Only about 30 percent of a student’s waking week is spent at school — and that’s only in wintertime. Add in summer break and holidays, and it’s more like 20 percent of the awake time that a young person is in the structured, learning environment provided by the school day.

This means that many of the events and activities that shape a young person’s life take place during the remaining 70-80 percent of the time.

When school lets out, not all children have the same set of choices. Leaders in the field are exploring the best way to provide quality out-of-school programs and therefore a better future for all our young people. In addition, there is a need to make sure that everyone, no matter their social, cultural, or economic background, has equal access to these programs.

For rural and resort areas, special problems arise. Rural afterschool and summertime educators must find ways to overcome long distances, a lack of infrastructure, and limited funding options in order to make out-of-school programs viable and successful.

Bestselling author shares her story

A highlight of the event was the presentation and discussion that arose from Sarah Smarsh, National Book Award Finalist who spoke at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Thursday as part of the conference. Smarsh delved deep into her life of poverty growing up in Kansas, experiences she chronicled in her best-selling book, “Heartland: A memoir of working hard and growing up broke in the richest country in the world.”

The conference also included more than 30 sessions on topics ranging from the social-emotional health of young people to how to better create and leverage community partnerships.

Participants also left with concrete tools to help them share ideas and resources with their respective communities. With help from Grove International, artist Malgosia Kostecka created a remarkable “graphic recording” of the event — a visual representation of the content and discussions of the conference that is being digitized and distributed to participants.

From Texas, to Wyoming, to Tennessee to right here in Eagle County, educators and nonprofit organizers from 26 states came away with a multitude of ideas and tools that will help create enriching environments for young people in rural communities around the country, during the critical time spent out-of-school.

To learn more about the discussions and outcomes of the conference visit

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