In the model of TED Talks, the Education Alliance held an "ED" Talk Thursday afternoon at New River Community and Technical College in Beaver to discuss forming the "West Virginia Ready Graduate."
At its core, the West Virginia Ready Graduate initiative is an attempt to make young West Virginians employable as soon as they complete their schooling.
Three speakers, all with ties to southern West Virginia, were invited to share their successes in educating the next generation and how others — teachers, government officials or the business community — can help.
First to speak at the event was Jada Reeves, the 2019 West Virginia Teacher of the Year.
A fifth-grade teacher at Bradley Elementary, Reeves broke down student success into two key terms, engagement and empowerment.
Reeves said as a young student, she was afraid to speak up in class, fearful of punishment, until her fourth-grade teacher met her on the first day of school with a smile and a simple message — they were going to have fun during the school year.
"She changed the way I thought of school," Reeves said.
She said educators must make school fun and students must actively participate in their own learning.
Reeves told the audience how she gives her students jobs in the classroom. They're not simply assigned jobs, but instead, they have to be interviewed for the positions.
She also lets students set their own goals, and instead of giving blanket assignments, she speaks with each individual student to personalize tasks.
"When the students take charge of their own learning and they are invested in what they are doing, that makes things a little bit more fun when they know they are in charge," Reeves said.
She encourages the community to be involved through career days and school speeches.
"We don't always need money. Money is nice, but we need your time," Reeves told the audience. "We need you to volunteer. Come into our classrooms, come into our schools, tell us what you do, make that engaging and fun for our schools."
For Brad Price, the message of community and school partnerships was much the same as Reeves'.
Price, an associate professor at West Virginia University who grew up in Madison, first gave his appreciation to the public school teachers in the audience.
"I owe everything I have to public education in the state of West Virginia," Price said.
A statistician by trade, Price was instrumental in establishing a data analytics program at WVU's John Chambers College of Business and Economics.
While back in West Virginia, Price, like many of the state's younger generation, was forced to leave the state to find work.
Price thinks the lack of tech jobs in the state has begun to change, and he said it all starts with education.
He said the task of producing a change in the state is up to both schools and the greater business community.
To empathize that point, Price spoke about the projects that his students work on with local businesses and organizations to streamline and improve their efficiencies through data analytics.
When someone thinks of data analytics, they usually think of large companies like IBM, Google and Amazon. But Price said the field is valuable to any organization that tracks data — it's simply solving problems using modern tools.
Price said his students' involvement in state business is already paying off.
In the program, which is less than five years old, Price said he just had five West Virginia natives sign employment contracts of more than $75,000 a year with businesses in the state.
He said his class sizes are continuing to grow, and he attributes much of the success to aiming high.
"We wanted to develop business leaders, the next generation of business leaders who are critical thinkers and communicators with technology at hand," Price said. "The second thing is we wanted to create the most outward facing, engaging program in the country."
The professor believes that mission is coming to fruition, highlighting how his students have already saved businesses millions of dollars through their work.
For his students to achieve, and for all students to achieve, Price said the community around them needs to buy in.
"We need you in the classrooms," Price said. "Not just in K through 12, but all over education."
The third speaker of the event, Dan D'Antoni, also discussed setting goals high.
The head coach of Marshall University's basketball program, a Mullens native and a member of the most famous West Virginia coaching families, D'Antoni told the audience how he starts out every season.
"My goal every year, it doesn't matter who it is, win the NCAA title," the coach said. "Period. That's it."
Growing up in a coaching family, D'Antoni shared personal stories about life lessons he learned from his parents.
The coach told a story about one day when he walked into one of his father's practices. He said he didn't see anything that his father was doing that was impressive.
Leaving the practice, D'Antoni stopped and thought to himself, "I'm missing something. You don't have an 80 percent winning percentage and not be delivering something in practice.
"So I went back in and just watched how subtle he was in teaching. It wasn't about him. It was about his students."
The Marshall coach discussed the importance of coaching and teaching to the individual before coaching or teaching to the sport or subject.
"I try to build young men, not players," D' Antoni said.
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