International Literacy Association Goes Back to School for Event

Author: Cristi Kempf       

International Literacy Association attendees take a turn at students’ desks at a Las Vegas school. (Photos by Skylar Stevens)

Best in Show 2019: International Literary Association Intensive: Nevada
June 21-22, 2018Somerset Academy, Sky Pointe Campus, Las Vegas553 attendees

For the ILA Intensive: Nevada — which drew K-12 educators, literacy specialists, and administrators from throughout North America — the challenge was to deliver an inspired and exceptional professional development experience with a limited operational budget. To do that, ILA went back to school, literally, holding the sessions, keynotes, and lunch in 35 classrooms, the gym, theater, and cafeteria at Somerset Academy in Las Vegas, which was on summer break. (Since these were middle- and high-school classrooms, the desks were not too small for adult attendees.) Additionally, outdoor seating spaces were created.

Valerie Sumner

The non-traditional venue meant that ILA colleagues Amy Taylor, conference coordinator, and Becky Fetterolf, professional learning manager, did a lot of set-up work and room arranging, tested Wi-Fi bandwidth, and had to “figure out” the food, said Valerie Sumner, conference director, International Literacy Association, and owner of VRS Meetings & Events.

Amy Taylor

For the latter, a coffee truck was brought on site in the morning and lunch was catered and delivered by Jason’s Deli. During registration, attendees chose their lunch items, including vegetarian and vegan options, which they picked up in the cafeteria. The vending machines were stocked, and attendees drank from the school fountains or from bottled water that was brought in. “Lesson learned on that; we probably should have had more recycling areas,” Sumner said.

To help keep costs low for attendees, room blocks were in three “very nice but more budget-conscious hotels, like Hampton Inn,” Sumner said. And shuttle buses ferried attendees to the event.

Becky Fetterolf

The decision to gather at the school led to “substantial savings,” Sumner said, “and the reason was twofold. One, a partnership with the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program really helped us because they had the connection with the school and they supported … the school rental fee…. And number two, we didn’t have all those very high costs: food and beverage, setup, Wi-Fi, all the conference-support activations required that you typically pay higher fees for in a hotel.”

The event proved, Sumner said, “that we do not always need to execute programming in a traditional fashion.” The primary driver for the ILA Intensive program was always professional development excellence, she added. “The team spent many long hours focused on session design and content, thought-leader presenters, attendee engagement, and educational offerings.” It was important that registration fees were as cost-effective as possible, Sumner said. “So the idea was, ‘Okay, how can we make this work and create an innovative and unique conference experience that delivers excellence?’”

Making access and equity a priority helped make it possible for more attendees to put research into practice, Sumner said, “to create change in literacy and to continue to advance literacy around the globe.

Cristi Kempf is executive editor at Convene.

Best in Show 2019: More Inspiring, Creative Ideas for Events

International Literacy Association Intensive: Nevada take over at classroom. The group used more than 35 classrooms.

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