GradNation Summit brings kids and education professionals together

Speech by author Wes Moore kicks off events

Story by Lyndsey Schley



WesMoorespeakinggroupWes Moore New York Times Bestselling Author


Summit Education Initiative’s GradNation Community Summit brought more than 400 students, education professionals and community members to Quaker Station in Akron on Jan. 7th.


The GradNation Summit, focusing on the idea of making choices and not consequences, was organized to bring together teachers and students to discuss how to improve high school graduation rates.


“We’re thrilled to be able to host over 140 Akron Public Schools students representing every high school,” Summit Education Initiative Executive Derran Wimer said. “We believe at the Summit Education Initiative that hearing the student voice and understanding the students’ perspective is very important for us to help them be successful. I would encourage you as we go through the day to please fully engage with each other, because we have a lot to learn from the students and the students can maybe learn some new things from us.”

The students and professionals also were able to listen to and interact with local and national figures who had turned their lives around by seeking education.




The GradNation Summit, a program of the America’s Promise Alliance, is one of 100 similar summits being held across the country.


The graduation rate in Summit County is about 88 percent, which is 7 percentage points above the most recent national rate in 2012, but 462 students last year still left school without receiving any diploma. Kirsten Toth, Senior Vice President of the GAR Foundation, said this is still too many people.


kirsttothnewheadshothighresKirsten Toth Senior Vice President of the GAR Foundation


“It’s 462 lives that are forever changed because of that one consequence,” Toth said. “What’s important about our convening today for me is we can all be lifelong learners, wherever that comes from and wherever that is in our lives.”


Author kicks off event with a message to kids about choices


New York Times Bestselling Author Wes Moore has led an accomplished life. He was a Rhodes Scholar and a White House Fellow. The military veteran served as a paratrooper in Afghanistan.


However, his life did not start out as easily. He was born in Baltimore, where he watched his father die at an early age. He moved with his family to live with his grandparents in the Bronx, where he began to get in trouble.


His mother sent him to military school and his life got turned around, but his book, The Other Wes Moore, details the life of another man from Baltimore with the same name and a similar background. Instead of being a veteran or a White House Fellow, that Wes Moore is in jail serving a life sentence for murder. Moore is currently working at a start-up to improve the first year of college for students.


Moore said one of the largest influences was the expectations others had for him. He once visited the other Wes Moore in jail, who commented that they were not so much products of their environments, but rather, products of their expectations.


“Someone said to me ‘It’s a real shame that you lived up to your expectations and Wes didn’t,’” he said. “ I said. ‘Actually, the real shame is that we both did.’ Because the expectations we have for ourselves aren’t born from nowhere. The expectations we have for ourselves come from expectations other people have of us.”


WesMoore2Wes Moore New York Times Bestselling Author


He said it was important to never forget the students who are not in the room and less interested in their education.


“The 88 percent is wonderful, but we must be obsessed with the 400 plus,” Moore said. “The 88 percent deserves acknowledgment and applause and celebration, but the 400 plus needs to keep us up at night. We fight for the others and if we’ve done that, we’ve done our job.”


Moore also insisted that the promise of good education for students is not only about them, but also about giving back to the community that supported them.


“This promise is not a gift,” he said. “This promise is a responsibility. This promise forces you to ask ‘Who will I choose to fight for?’ because your success will mean nothing if it’s just about getting you personally across the finish line. The whole point about you getting across the finish line is that you are now ready to join an army of people who are pulling other people across the finish line, too.”


JavonBanks Javon Banks a Sophomore at North High School


Moore also had a private session with the students. Javon Banks, a sophomore at North High School, said he could relate to many aspects of Moore’s message, especially since his own mother had threatened to send him to military school.


“What he was saying was don’t try to hurt people who love you trying to impress people who can care less about you,” Banks said. “What I take from that is basically everything is possible, anybody can do anything. Just like I can write a book and become a famous author, but it takes time and dedication and motivation from your peers.”


Banks said he liked that Moore continued to reach out to others who did not make as good of choices as he did.


“I like how he took times to make connections with somebody in prison and he didn’t judge,” Banks said. “He didn’t judge them for his actions. I know numerous people whose decisions put them in a bad situation, but it’s what you do then after that that will determine your mentality.



Community members and students discuss how they can make educational promises a reality


The summit focused around five promises promoted by the America’s Promise Alliance. The organization says every student should have  1)access to caring adults 2) safe places 3) a healthy start 4) effective education and 5) opportunities to serve.


“Researchers suggest that if you give kids these opportunities, they will be more successful in life,” said Matt Deevers, senior research associate at the Summit Education Initiative.


MathewDeevers,Matt Deevers Senior Research Associate at Summit Education Initiative


While students were in the special session with Moore, educators broke into two groups. They were tasked with interviewing five other educators on the five promises and how they had affected their lives.


“Think about your own childhood and adolescence,” Deevers said. “During this session, we want you to think and respond based on your own experiences as a student.”


ShipCollinsShip Collins Teacher at Orange City Schools


Ship Collins, a teacher at Orange City Schools and Selena Myers, Barberton satellite coordinator at Stark State College, interviewed each other on effective education that prepares student for a knowledge-driven world.


Collins discussed how funding disparities affect education.


“Just because I live is this area, means I don’t have the same opportunities as this area,” Collins said. “The potential is universal, but opportunities are not.”


SelenaMyersSelena Myers Barberton Satellite Coordinator at Stark State College

Myers sees the importance of this in her work at Stark State College.

“If it’s becoming more of knowledge-driven world, then some of those communities that are less affluent don’t have the ability to keep up and that’s really a disadvantage to those students,” Myers said. “A lot of my students are non-traditional adult students who don’t have this knowledge-driven background, that don’t have the skills to even get started and they never got them, not even early on.”


This was practice for later when they would be asking these same question to students.


Timothy Strickling Jr., a junior at Garfield High School, told community members about his experiences with caring adults. He said he had trouble during his sophomore year, but he is doing better now in school. He said a lot of this is because of his dad.


“My dad would not let me do anything bad,” Strickling said. “It’s not even doing anything bad, yeah, if I’m not on the court or the field, I’m in a classroom or my home.”


He said that he is also motivated to be a caring adult and a role model for his 8-year-old brother.


“I just love that little boy,” Strickling said. “He gets straight A’s. I taught him how to play basketball, his first words were actually my name. I taught him how throw a football. [He’s] a great basketball player, [on the] football team, made the all-star team, quarterback for the all–star team.”
This story will be continued next week.

For more information on GradNation go to:

America’s Promise go to:  or  SEI go to:

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