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Just Getting STARTED

Winning Founder’s is no reason to slow down for a young program that’s found quick success by spencer watson


othing against pancakes, mind you, but Buffalo Island Central (BIC) High School senior Alex Talavera did not want to be eating at IHOP after the 2017 Founder’s Award was presented at EAST Conference.

“Last year, our superintendent wanted to take us out to eat as a celebration for being finalists, so we went to IHOP and had pancakes. But the kids were so down” from not winning the award, said Jill Sanders, facilitator for EAST at BIC. “I couldn’t convince them it was not a loss. Being a Founder’s finalist, that was a huge win in only the second year of our program!” So the rallying cry all year was “we won’t be going to IHOP this year,” said Alex. Still, in those tense moments before the winner was announced, there was an aura of mutual respect among the BIC students. They knew what it took to get there — for all the programs involved. “We knew that not only our EAST program but all the other EAST programs that were finalists put in a lot of work to try to better our communities through our technology,” said Ethan Webster. “Of course, it would be really cool to win it, but if the judges had decided another EAST program was more advanced or did better, we would always have next year.” It turns out, for BIC the third year’s a charm. Following up on last year’s incredible work, this year BIC was awarded the Timothy R. Stephenson Founder’s Award, the highest honor awarded to any EAST program, for its demonstrable strength in community collaboration, project sophistication and innovation and student growth. Notably, the celebration was at Chili’s.



“We didn’t go to bed that night until probably 4,” said Jace Couch. It’s a picture of a program still giddy over just how far they’ve come in three short years — and one fully cognizant that, despite its success, now comes the hard part. “I can only hope that our program will improve from here,” said Drew, a senior who has been with EAST at BIC since its inception. “My part would be teaching other students whatever I know, passing down what I’ve learned in my three years of EAST and possibly making it easier for other students, maybe creating new projects for our students to continue. I can’t get senioritis now.” It’s the ethos of the entire program, which inhabits a unique place by serving three small, rural communities but being only a short drive from Jonesboro, the fifth largest city in the state. “Even before EAST was here, we were a very community-oriented school. Even though we’re three communities combined, we’re still very tight knit. I think that helps us,” said Jace. “I don’t buy the whole ‘we’re small so we can’t really do anything.’” “I don’t think we can focus on the disadvantages,” said Drew. “People may think we’re just a small town, a small school, that we can’t do anything big. But success is not a geographical feature. We can do big things.”

Spring 2017 EQ  

The quarterly magazine of the EAST Initiative.

Spring 2017 EQ  

The quarterly magazine of the EAST Initiative.