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Professional Development

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Know Your Elevator Speech

If the opportunity presents, could you advocate for your program and talk to people about the importance of afterschool?

Ken Anthony looked forward to a meeting at which he'd talk about a webinar highlighting a budding summer learning model that embodies partnership, community and district support, and shared outcomes. Before that, he was catching a colleague for lunch, to talk about the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship through Furman University.

Shortly after they began chatting about the afterschool role in student success, a gentleman asked if they could move their table and go through a security screen. The duo learned President Barack Obama and the governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont would soon arrive for lunch, and they could stay if they liked.

Anthony was getting nervous, until he heard Terry Peterson's voice in his head: "Know your elevator speech. You never know who you are going to meet." Anthony relaxed. He thought about how to encapsulate the importance of fellowship, and the role of the Statewide Afterschool Networks and the impact networks have on advocacy, policy, and training.

When he heard President Obama's voice nearby, "it was surreal." He entered the room and asked Anthony and the three others there to introduce and say a bit about themselves. Anthony was ready, telling the president about what he does at the Connecticut Afterschool Network, about the Statewide Afterschool Networks, about the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship. The president also spoke with Anthony's colleague, acknowledging the importance of afterschool in youth's lives.

Anthony admits is was difficult maintaining focus on his and his colleague's meeting, as they were seated mere feet from the President of the United States, surrounded by Secret Service agents.

During lunch, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who Anthony had met at a conference in 2012, also stopped by. Anthony talked with him about the upcoming Childhood Conversations Conference and emphasized the Mott-funded Connecticut Afterschool Network's efforts statewide. He and his colleague also spoke briefly with Gov. Peter Shumlin about the Vermont network and its exciting work.

After lunch, President Obama had group photos taken with people in the restaurant. Anthony mentioned that his children probably wouldn't believe he saw and chatted with him, and might think this was a cardboard cutout photo. The president had another photo taken, with Anthony alone.


The president, governors, and Secret Service agents departed, and Anthony headed to his afternoon meeting—thinking about how grateful he was to know his elevator speech. News of his impromptu meeting with the president quickly spread, and people asked him to blog about it. ("The blog seen from coast to coast!")

Anthony stresses the importance of knowing what you do and being proud of it; of knowing how to talk about it to others—the board of education, town council members, state representatives, even the president—as it could help the afterschool field.

Let your passion drive you. Anthony wasn't nervous when speaking with President Obama, because he's passionate about afterschool. "I believe in what we do! No matter whom you're talking to, it's important to be able to talk about your craft and what you do. The more we can advocate, the more credibility we get as a field within the education field, the more we help!"

As former South Carolina Gov. Richard W. Riley (of fellowship fame) noted to Anthony, "Don't discount the importance of this meeting."

You never know when someone might remember your words in the future.

Written by Amy L Charles, editorial director for AfterSchool Today magazine.