Elgin's first Education Summit brought together about 180 people Friday for what Elgin Mayor David Kaptain called "the largest community conversation" he's ever hosted.
Educators, nonprofit agencies, business owners and other community members participated in the event spearheaded by Kaptain in partnership with Elgin Area School District U-46, Community Unit School District 301 and Elgin Community College. It was held at The Centre of Elgin.
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Education is among the goals in a strategic plan adopted by the Elgin City Council late last year.
"It may seem like an anomaly for the city council to have identified that as a strategic goal," Kaptain said. "But the issue of education goes well beyond the classroom, to the root of many of the social and economic challenges we faces as a community."
Guest speaker Laurie Preece talked about the strategies used by Alignment Rockford, a community-based initiative created in 2009 that brings together civic, religious, educational and business leaders to support schools.
For example, 280 volunteers participated in a career awareness event last fall designed to give students a hands-on look at different professions, Preece said.
In the classroom, science, math, social studies and language arts curriculums all converge to include real-world input, including field trips to work sites, she said.
"A student might not love geometry, but when he hears from a brick mason ... he might decide to put up with it after all," she said.
The Elgin summit was facilitated by Ray Thompson of Northwestern University's Asset Based Community Development Institute. Halfway through, participants divided into small groups to brainstorm about different topics, including career awareness, internships and mentorships, after-school learning, and more.
U-46 Superintendent Jose Torres said the district already does much of what Alignment Rockford advocates, but the more the community is behind it, the better, he said.
YWCA Elgin CEO Julia McClendon said the summit was a valuable chance for people to connect with others who are passionate about education.
"You wouldn't believe how many people here don't know each other," she said. "I'm excited to see everybody come together to see what we can do as a collaborative partnership."
Collaboration is crucial in today's economic environment, said Kojo Darkwa, director of admissions and business development for The Einstein Academy in Elgin. "As a private school, it's great to hear what the districts have to say," he said.
Karin Jones, owner of KJH insurance agency in Elgin, said education is crucial to Elgin's success. "It's good to see how this can energize people to come together and work together."
As for whether there will be future summits, Kaptain said that's all up to educators and their evaluation of Friday's kickoff event.
"I would like to see them go on," Kaptain said.