Creating Magic at the 2018 ESSA Conference

by Megan Epley


This November I had the opportunity to be a vendor and presenter at Tuscon’s ESSA Conference. It was a humbling and fantastic event! We made inspiring connections throughout the state of Arizona, even with students who organized the Joint Arts Conference held the day before.

Breakout sessions included a variety of topics, including: “The Importance of Centering Youth Voice,” “Beyond the Eurocentric Curriculum,” and “Intersectionality and Social Justice Isn’t Just Us.” Impressive right?


I don’t think I stopped smiling that whole time because students were prioritized before anything else at the event, which is how it should be!

Thanks to their examples, I found myself confidently networking (something that I normally hate doing alone). It is so much easier to network with a sidekick or familiar faces, but I didn’t know anyone at the ESSA Conference.

Regardless, I bravely introduced myself to everyone with my business card. I even followed the keynote speaker out of the room to introduce myself! Whoops, stalker much? Now this makes me laugh because if you know me, I dread networking.

I passionately believe in stARTem. It’s my baby, and I want to tell everyone about it. But I’m just known for having awkward social moments. Argh!

Over the years, however, I’ve learned that when we’re true to ourselves, people are likely to warm up to your unique personality. Often our shared passions end up outweighing the moment you accidentally mispronounced their name. With that in mind, I just went for it!

It was surreal to see my organization come alive as I talked to each person about the importance of merging creativity into the classroom.

Someone recently asked me how I felt about the state of our education system, and I think was expecting me to annihilate the game. But I told him that I honestly have a regained hope about it.

There are numerous flaws within the national structure, but I think philosophies of truly honoring the student is creating change. Honoring the voice and learning practices of our youth, is the key to significant systematic transformation.

Teachers are required to meet certain criteria, but there won’t be any growth if there’s no engagement.

Create engagement with your student, like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but also give them a voice.  


In our stARTem classes we have a presentation after every project. I love them! And my students know I love them because I say it frequently.

I tell them it’s an opportunity to express themselves audibly and explain their learning process. At the end, we all encourage and celebrate one another. The whole class reflects on each project and compliments one another. It’s a tremendous opportunity to build community!

I want to believe that our classroom is this sacred land where students are allowed to be themselves. You know? That magic we talk about.

Every lesson is also filled with a time of discussion where I geek out with joy about that too because students observe the world so differently, intelligently and beautifully. It’s wonderful and filled with magic.

Give your students a voice. Tell them they are valuable now.

Students across the state organized a beneficial and inspiring event for educators and administrators. Students, the youth did that. Their capable of extraordinary feats, so let’s empower them to take ownership of their education and identity.

I promise you’ll see growth and magic in your classroom.

Megan EpleyComment