The theme of this year’s conference was “Walking in Beauty and Unity.” The welcome address for the conference was given by San Juan School District Superintendent Ron Nielson.
“The conference agenda harmonizes the connection of both cultural celebration and the cultural impact on education for all of our students,” Nielson said. “It is one of my primary goals to encourage all within our school reach to embrace the beauty of our differences and more importantly our similarities in goals, and use our commonalities to build a foundation of Unity and Belonging.”
After Nielson delivered the welcome address, Keynote Speaker Mary Kim Titla gave a speech to the crowd.
Titla is a Native American Youth advocate and former broadcaster who has been recognized by the Associated Press.
Youth advocacy members for the Heritage Language Conference were able to attend a meeting last year in California where they listened to one of Titla’s keynote speeches and decided to try and bring her to speak at the conference this year. Titla agreed to speak at this year’s conference and tied into the theme of unity.
“She (Titla) was part of that spotlight on unity clubs,” Student Advocacy Director Trevor Olsen said. “She was the director of unity and every year they have a national conference that we’ve been able to attend.
“Two years ago it was in Denver, CO, and this year it was in San Diego, CA, and our student leadership was able to attend and invited her to come here and speak to the students here.”
Olsen said Titla was able to share the unique perspective with the conference of what is going on worldwide in terms of unity. Titla presented how students and educators can better prepare themselves to be an advocate for their communities.
After the keynote address, the conference split off into breakout sessions that varied in topic from, “Helping Our Students Navigate to a Brighter Future,” to, “Looking At Life A Different Way–Building Resiliency in Trauma Sensitive Schools.”
The conference received a grant this year which enabled more speakers for the one-day Heritage Language Conference, something that is different from years past.
“This year we partnered with a three-day conference that was going on down there for teachers and community members,” Bilingual Director, Clayton Long said. “We took the second day and combined their presenters and our presenters and made it into a Heritage Language Conference.”
The grant, which was received through the San Juan School District, had to do more with approaching the entire family unit rather than just talking to an individual student, according to Long.
“The team that helped the student also helped the family,” Long said. “That’s the manual training, so we decided to come together and share with more than just those that were a part of that grant.
“We had teachers; we had language teachers and administrators. Not all could come, but there was a selection that each school did to bring some folks.”
Next year CTE (Career and Technology Education) may be a new implementation to the conference, according to Long.
“I really, really praise the Heritage Language students, which are the Navajo students,” Long said. “They have taken it upon themselves to form clubs, which are called unity clubs, which is a national Native American club that we’ve had going for about a year now.”
Titla is the head of the national club the students have joined, showing a real demonstration of what they were able to accomplish as a group bringing her to this year’s conference as the keynote speaker.