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Opinion & Essays - May, 2001 Issue #81 

First Time Attendee
IECA Spring Conference 2001

By Kristie Vollar
Referral Assistant
Woodbury Reports, Inc.
(208) 267-5550

For years I have watched as my dad traveled to schools and programs, Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conferences, and various other functions and conferences involving the network of private special purpose schools and programs. When he returned I listened as he shared the buzz on who was where and what they were doing. 

I have visited a few of the schools/programs with him, and have attended a wilderness and school and worked for one myself, so I have been intrigued by the differences in the programs available. Now it was my turn to attend an IECA conference. 

The conference was held in Seattle, Washington, a 6 1/2 to 7-hour drive from my home. I was both interested excited to attend as well as nervous and overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure what it would be like; wasn’t sure if I would be accepted. I knew I’d meet so many professionals and would inhale, and possibly overload, a whole array of information. 

The first day entailed the consultants checking in, some friendly hellos to fellow colleagues, and pretty much getting settled into the room. We had some time to go to Pike Place Market, to do a little sight seeing and visit with family. I met three or four consultants that evening as the hotel came alive with Independent Educational Consultants from all around the country. 

The next morning, we had a bagel breakfast on the top floor of the Sheridan hotel, (the 35th floor!) hosted by CEDU Family of Services. Most of the consultants attended and “networked” with each other over breakfast. I met several consultants that morning and realized that my feelings of overwhelm were legitimate. Over the next couple days, I would meet so many people it would be hard to remember who I had met, and where they were from. On the first whole day of the conference, only IECA members and provisional members attend the meetings and seminars. After breakfast, when the members went to their annual membership meeting, my mom and I went downstairs and met professionals from schools and programs who were in the process of checking in for the conference. They would join us later for an elegant Professional Day Dinner. 

Later that morning, the seminars began. My dad presented a seminar in the morning and afternoon, and I was able to attend as his assistant, helping to pass out papers. His presentation on Northwest Schools and Programs was co-presented with Yvonne Jones of Seattle and Pat Phelan of Portland, Oregon. My dad and Yvonne shared their views on how the network was changing, and Pat described how her educational background influenced the way she looked at programs. It went fairly well. I listened as the consultants shared their views of the various schools and programs in the northwest and their views of the network, while I tried to inhale as much of it as I could. 

After the classes that day, there were several receptions sponsored by various groups in the network. There was a first time attendee’s reception, with a speech from Mark Sklarow, the Executive Director of the IECA, inviting us into the network and giving key pointers to those of us who are “beginners”. As he wrapped up his speech and we began to mingle, my mom grabbed me and we went up to the 33rd floor, to another program’s reception. What a difference in dynamics between the First Timers and those who had been there many times before. 

As we got off the elevator, there was already a loud chatter coming from somewhere down the hall, and I could definitely tell we were on the right floor. We entered the suite and people from many different schools, as well as many consultants, were there. It felt like it was about 11:50pm on New Year’s Eve. It had been like a whole day had gone by already, and we still had dinner to attend. 

Before dinner, hundreds of professionals gathered in the foyer to the Grand Ballroom. Trying to find anyone in particular would have been impossible, like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and when we entered and began mingling, we were pulled from one conversation mid-sentence into another. Someone would come up to us, comment on my articles and greet me, then grab my dad and move with him to another group of people and another conversation. Everything moved so fast, between conversations, meeting people, sharing information on who was who and who was where; I hardly realized that an hour had passed. We were all over the room until they finally opened the Grand Ballroom and we slowly merged through the doors. 

Dinner was catered with four different types of food from Pike Place, with ice cream sundaes for desert. Wow!! I had to run up to the room for our drink tickets and as I walked across the still crowded foyer, a woman called my name. It had been so long since I had seen them, I had to look at the nametag to realize it was Penny Riddell from Explorations! That was definitely one of the highlights of the conference for me. It was great to see Lorne and Penny after so many years, and to be one of their “success stories”!

After dinner, there were more receptions and more “networking”. The biggest part of the conference seams to be the networking. It was really neat to meet the people who I have been talking with over the phone for the last year and a half, and those who have read my articles and followed my journey. 

The next morning felt like a week later when it had only been a day and a half since we had arrived. I was back in the Grand Ballroom at 7:30 to set up for the information Swap Meet. This is where all the professionals involved in the conference do just that…swap information about what schools and programs are available. The consultants have plenty of opportunity to mingle and gather information about new programs, as well as chat about the older programs. After the Swap Meet, seminars and meetings begin promptly, and people cleared out of the room fairly quickly. 

Friday afternoon we wrapped up our participation at the conference to get a jump start on the long drive and the important obligations at home, that unfortunately had created some scheduling conflicts. Before heading out, those from the Woodbury Reports, Inc. staff who attended the conference visited the original Starbucks in order to get together to enjoy a last taste of Seattle and some wonderful coffee. In the two days we attended the conference, I had literally met hundreds of professionals, networked, listened, learned, and was completely emotionally, mentally and physically drained. I would have liked to stay through the entire conference to get the whole essence of what it was all about. I look forward to attending the conference in Tampa in the fall, and have only four words to sum up the experience…Boy what a rush!! 

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