ORLANDO – The Student Florida Education Association (SFEA) Leadership and Professional Learning Conference took place this past weekend in Orlando.
The conference kicked off Friday night at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate with a warm welcome from the Florida Education Association State President, Fedrick Ingram, who has served as president of the organization since last October.
Ingram went around the room filled with aspiring educators who ranged from College of Education students from FAMU, FSU, Flagler and UCF, to name a few, and told them to, “Learn to see the aesthetic value in every kid.”
The student president of the FEA, Jairus Williams, told attendees what to expect during the next two days. It included a Teachers of Color Summit, breakout sessions that focused on crucial topics such as Dismantling Racism, Supporting Students in Poverty and Trauma Informed Practices, and Creating Inclusive and Support Environment for LGBTQ youth, to only name a few.
These sessions were presented to the future educators to give them insight and information that could help them prepare for the students in their classrooms who will one day depend on them to teach and lead them.
This year, due to funding from FEA with the Teachers of Color Summit, it allowed a greater number of students to attend the conference, which resulted in a crowd of 50 FAMU students to be present – expense free.
Endya Stewart, a secondary education professor at FAMU, has attended the conference for several years. When asked about the benefits to FAMU students attending the conference, she spoke of “the professional development and the learning gains for students” as well as the ability to see “instruction put into play from other individuals outside of the FAMU classrooms.”
Students who attend the conference are encouraged to attend and lead sessions to help them with higher classroom and academic performance. They are given the opportunity to network and graduate with job offers. In attendance were a mix of current, past and future educators, community leaders, and clergy from various Florida counties.
Quinetta Ryal, a seventh grade science teacher at East Naples Middle School, touched on the importance of Black teachers in schools. “I think it’s something naturally in us that we take the time to get to know our children. The kids these days come with some serious, serious baggage. But they have issues that I think as an African American that I can relate to. I think that I and other African American teachers have the ability to help these kids work through those issues,” she said.
The topic of black teachers in today’s school systems was not a conversation that the members of the organization were timid to discuss. An ultimate goal for this year’s conference is to diversify the teaching profession. Teaching jobs have primarily been held by middle class Caucasian women, and it was deemed necessary that it was time for a change as the once minorities are now becoming the majority as they do not see individuals that resemble them in the classroom.
“It makes a difference when you go someplace and there’s someone that looks like you. I don’t care if you’re 5, 55 or 65, it makes a difference when you go and you see somebody that looks like you,” said Ryal.
A Legacy Project is done every year on the last day of the conference in order to go into schools located in low -income communities to not only make a difference, but to show the students in the area that there are individuals who think of them. This year, the educators went into Lake Marion Creek Middle School, a school located in Kissimmee, which has been under state control for the past four years. This was the first year that it was not. Beautification was done through rock painting, gardening, positive sticky notes, and even inspirational paintings on the bathroom walls.