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Seen and Heard Around the Conference: Rockets, Flying Pigs And Replaying the Super Bowl

FunikiJam, an off-broadway family musical, had a booth at the exhibit hall. It's also a company that does interactive school programs and live shows for newborns and older. Photo by Angelina D'Elia.

Before he got into the meat of his keynote speech on Friday morning, Stephen M.R. Covey couldn’t resist offering a counterpoint to the earlier remarks at the 2nd General Session of Frank Henderson Jr., president of the National School Boards Association who hails from Topeka, Kan.

In his NSBA greeting, Henderson expressed his glee with the large audience with the performance of the Kansas City Chiefs, in their 38-35 Super Bowl LVII win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 12.

“We in Kansas relish our Super Bowl victory,” Henderson announced.

Then came Covey, who stepped to the podium on center stage and opened with comments about his son, who just happens to play for the Eagles. In the second half of Super Bowl LVII, Britain Covey set his team up for a scoring drive with an explosive punt return.

“With someone talking about the Kansas City Chiefs, someone needed to speak about the Philadelphia Eagles as well,” Covey said.

And talk he did because Covey, unlike Henderson, brought along a video clip from the game, showcasing his son in action.

“As a proud dad, I thought I would show it to you,” Covey said as the imagery appeared on the huge screens. “I just couldn’t resist.”

*    *    *

Roll the Camera and Get Out of the Way!

Silas Bryant, a prize-winning video journalist though only a high schooler, has conducted plenty of interviews, but none of them had been accompanied by the pure chaos brought about by the disassembly of the AASA Exhibit Hall, home to more than 325 commercial vendors over the past two days.

In the midst of Bryant’s interview on Friday afternoon with Phil Cutler, founder and CEO of Paper, an online tutoring company based in Montreal, the stage lights started to come down, the camera was engulfed by a sea of people and the carpet underneath Bryant’s own feet was pulled up from the concrete floor. No, the interview hadn’t been cancelled, but it certainly was not going according to plan. Bryant persisted, completing an eight-minute, four-question interview.

Michael Ellson, videography coordinator for Conference Daily Online at this year’s AASA conference and Bryant’s media arts teacher at Christ Presbyterian School in Nashville, Tenn., watched the scene unfold from behind the lens of the camera. “I was very proud of my colleague for his on-the-spot thinking in his dream to pursue media,” Ellson said.

*    *    *

Dan Domenech being a dork
AASA Children's Programs Director Bryan Joffe, left, and outgoing Executive Director Dan Domenech at the 2023 Effie H. Jones Memorial Luncheon. Photo by Micah Anthony II.

Already Accomplished as an Author

Dan Domenech has often said he hoped to publish a practical work about leading school systems not too far into his fast-approaching retirement, but he got a big surprise about his publishing intentions on the stage of the conference’s 2nd General Session on Friday morning.

As Paul Imhoff, immediate past president, invited Domenech to the podium, he presented him with a hardcover copy of a freshly published book with his image on the book jacket. It was a collection of all 160 monthly columns he has written for School Administrator magazine over his nearly 15 years as executive director, produced by some of the colleagues he’s leaving behind.

“I was thinking about writing a book after I retired. Now I’m finding out I already did,” he quipped.

* * *

The Wagner High School Mixed Choir performed at the 2nd General Session, Friday, Feb. 16, 2023. Photo by Paige Heller.

Not the Singing Supes, Yet a Worthy Lidlifter

The Singing Superintendents, a favorite at past AASA conferences, have fallen short on the number of needed participants and did not appear.

Twenty student performers with the Wagner High School mixed choir delivered a five-song set to open the AASA conference’s 2nd General Session on Friday morning. Their set included “Ain't No Mountain High Enough” and “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.” They ended with “Lovely Days.”

*    *    *

When Pigs Fly

Like many of the booths in the AASA exhibit hall this year, the SchooLinks table presented a variety of knick-knacks to grab the attention of passerby — and it was proving to be successful. The most eye-catching prize? A pink foam pig with what looks like a nose-ring attached to its snout.

Mike Discenza, chief technology officer at SchooLinks, explained this was intended as a launching mechanism as these pigs were made to be tossed through the crowd.

“People like interesting stuff, you know, in conferences, you’ve got to stand out, you got to get people's attention. You’ve got to be novel, essentially. And it's a conversation starter. How does it relate to college and career readiness?” Discenza asked with a laugh. “I'm not 100% sure, but it draws people in and then we have a lot of good conversations about what we do and how we help school districts.”

* * *

LuxBlox exhibit booth
This booth for LuxBlox showcases the company's inventive learning block capabilities. Photo by Angelina D'Elia.

Houston, We Have a Solution

LuxBlox is a learning company that provides creative and kinesthetic ways for young learners to understand ideas, using their uniquely shaped construction blocks. Their AASA exhibit hall booth stood out among the crowd, with colorful constructions set up all around.

Mike Acerra, president of LuxBlox, built them himself, including the most impressive structure — an enormous rocket that stood taller than Acerra.

“We’re a learning company that looks like a toy company,” Acerra explained with a grin. About the rocket, he said, “I built that because I was coming to Texas and I thought, well, I might as well build a rocket if I’m coming to Texas, right?”

* * *

A Standout Performer

With his bright red pants, guitar and aviator goggles, “Captain Jam” did, indeed, look like a character straight out of a wacky television program intended for young children.

Brian Barrentine, founder and creator of the World Music Theatre Company, said he created Funikijam as a way for students to learn through fun.

 “My favorite part about the job is seeing the spark of joy in children's eyes — and grown-up's eyes — when they experience learning about a new culture or learning a new skill through the arts,” he said.

* * *

A Calming Tool

Superintendents love rubber chicken slingshots and fuzzy pipe cleaners.

The STOPit Solutions booth in the AASA exhibit hall drew crowds both Thursday and Friday with their “calm kits” – bags filled with toys and tools meant to calm someone down and keep them focused.

“Calm kits are a way for administrators to help regulate students,” CEO Parkhill Mays said.

(Compiled by Jay P. Goldman, editor-in-chief of Conference Daily Online, with contributions from Angelina D’Elia, Emma Siebold and Silas Bryant)

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