Olentangy Schools: One Community Conference is virtual affair spanning several days

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek

Acknowledging shared struggles is at the heart of the 2021 One Community Conference presented by the Olentangy Schools.

The seventh annual event, which focuses on respecting diversity and building community, is being held virtually over a number of days. Before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the conference was a daylong affair of keynote speakers, student presentations and a resource fair.

Elena Aguilar (left) and Barbara Fant

”Healing Through One Community” began with an “MLK Day of Service” on Jan. 19, for which community members could prepare donation packages for local nonprofits that address domestic violence. Jackie Merkle, curriculum supervisor of equity and inclusion whose office oversees the conference, said cars were lined up on Graphics Way to make donations at the district administration offices, 7840 Graphics Way.

Next up is keynote speaker Elena Aguilar, who will present online at 9 a.m. Jan. 30. An author and educator coach, Aguilar will speak on “how to cultivate emotional resilience so that we can build equitable schools.”

After the keynote address, participants will have an opportunity to take part in a 30-minute workshop session led by Columbus poet Barbara Fant on the topic of “Healing through Art: Finding Joy.” Participants will learn about what it means to use art as a form of healing.

Merkle said the wellness theme is woven throughout all the pieces of this year’s conference, which will continue through May with more virtual speakers and presentations and additional service opportunities.

“With everything we’ve been through as a society this past year, we wanted to encourage our community in healing and processing it all,” Merkle said.

She said the decision to hold the event virtually was “not made lightly,” acknowledging the energy that comes from these kinds of presentations when everyone is gathered at the same time in the same place.

“With the move to virtual, we wondered and really worked at the idea of how (to) keep people connected,” Merkle said.

“I’m looking at it as a positive,” school board president Julie Wagner Feasel said of holding the conference virtually. “If there are some things that can be done from home, hopefully, people can find more ways to fit something in their schedule.”

For February, conference organizers have created a calendar for reading works by Black authors that will culminate in a book talk. Another day of service will be held March 27.

 Student keynotes will be presented April 21, and a closing keynote is scheduled May 8.

More details about the series are at tinyurl.com/y2yel5j6.

To register for an event, go to tinyurl.com/y2lvyfzc.

Auditions are being held for student speakers, which, Wagner Feasel said, is her favorite part of the conference, offering something both for and by the community.

“I have learned something at every (conference),” she said. “To hear their stories always makes me think in ways I had never thought before.”

Despite the changes, Merkle said, the conference “is as relevant as ever.”

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