What does it mean to champion lifelong learning through partnerships?
That’s the question steering conversation this week in Hyannis, Massachusetts at the inaugural Network of the Americas Conference, an ongoing four-day networking and educational symposium hosted by Perkins School for the Blind and advocacy network Deafblind International. And it’s a vital question for a simple reason: In the deafblind community, creating a more inclusive world is a collaborative effort.
“None of us do anything in isolation,” said Marianne Riggio, director of Perkins International’s Educational Leadership Program (ELP), during Sunday’s opening ceremony. “Whether we’re working with a child, whether we’re communicating among families, whether we’re trying to change policies, we’re doing it all as partners.”
Speakers echoed this sentiment throughout the first two days of the conference, which has drawn some 400 attendees from 23 countries. But they’ve all been tackling it from different angles.
In a speech, Perkins President and CEO Dave Power highlighted the power of global partnerships like the ELP and Perkins International Academy, a teacher training program designed to help governments around the world meet their commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the targets under the SDGs calls for an inclusive, quality education for all children – including those with disabilities – by 2030.
“We know every child can learn,” said Power. “It’s our responsibility to make sure every government, community and school has the training, tools and expertise to deliver that education.”
Anthony Lake, former executive director of UNICEF and the event’s keynote speaker, urged leaders in the deafblind community to advocate for lasting change by influencing not only lawmakers but citizens as well.
“Our progress will depend upon legal and regulatory reform – and translating that reform into everyday practical action,” he said. “But also, and perhaps more difficult, it will require changing public attitudes around the world.”
Inside rooms throughout the convention center, expert panels explored both local and global partnership themes in detail. Presenters touched on a broad array of topics.
On Sunday, Marta Elena Ramirez, Perkins International’s regional representative for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, led a presentation highlighting a collaboration between civil society organizations and the Mexican government. The next afternoon, Perkins International Executive Director Michael Delaney discussed the rollout of Perkins International Academy in Russia alongside a representative from the Moscow-based Deaf-blind Support Foundation.
Other partnerships highlighted at the conference occur on a much smaller scale – but still have profound impacts.
Perkins Superintendent Ed Bosso, one of three plenary speakers, encouraged participants to view the families they work with not merely as people seeking a professional’s help, but rather as informed contributors to the educational process.
“Parents bring something that educators don’t have,” said Bosso. “If both sides are engaged, the child will have better outcomes. That’s when we achieve true partnerships – when we see parents and families as a resource.”
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