Published on June 6, 2024 by Kameron Brown  
Jill Everette Receives Diversity Award

For educators, students and their families, access to individualized instruction that meets diverse learning needs, while adhering to standardized curriculum requirements can often seem like a daunting task. It is these challenges that inspired the theme of Samford University’s 3rd annual Diversity Forum. Hosted by Orlean Beeson School of Education and Samford’s Office of Student Success and Diversity, the forum invited the community to find encouragement, practical knowledge and creative solutions for inclusive and supportive classrooms.

“Teaching and leading those with exceptionalities is a community-wide effort, its parents, teachers, families, and students working together,” said Hannah Kennedy, assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education. “Yet, challenges often outweigh the resources for students and educators in this minority.”

The Diversity Forum has become a keystone event in the Samford University calendar since its inception in 2020. The conference seeks to provide K-12 educators, community leaders, business professionals and government agencies with the resources, skills and knowledge to ensure educated, informed and safe practices surrounding diverse and marginalized populations are given quality access to premier educational standards.

“It is our duty as Christians to love one another, and as a Christ-centered university devoted to continual learning, our mission in the School of Education is to produce quality graduates who will show others their worth and value in Christ through education, leadership and service,” said Anna McEwan, dean of Orlean Beeson School of Education. “Tragically, families with exceptionalities all over the world are often overlooked, discriminated against and treated as worthless because of things outside of their control.”

In 2023, the School of Education’s Tom and Marla Corts Distinguished Author Series hosted, “An Evening with Tim Tebow,” which shed a light on how the world has negatively treats those with exceptionalities. Tebow’s work with marginalized groups and children and families with special needs aligns with Orlean Beeson School of Education’s mission to create classrooms of character both on and off campus, seeking to instill worth in every student, no matter their circumstances. 

“One of the biggest takeaways from this year’s conference is the need for understanding and patience,” said Kennedy. “Supporting students with exceptionalities is not all that different from your average classroom, it requires patience and understanding of a child’s needs and treating them with individualized love and respect.”

The table centerpieces at this year’s conference were constructed by one of the School of Education’s community partners, Turning Points. Housed in Orlean Bullard Beeson Hall, and managed by Mountain Brook City School District personnel, Turning Points provides social, educational and occupational growth and development for special needs students, ages 18-21,enrolled in Mountain Brook and Homewood Public Schools.

Turning Points gives students with exceptionalities a glimpse of a college experience as they eat in the university's cafeteria, take part in campus activities, play frisbee on the quad and hold on-campus jobs. The program helps transition students out of high school and supports the development of independent life skills.

The School of Education’s partnership with Turning Points is a testament to the merits of special education, how individualized efforts can not only lead to the success of a student, but to the success and health of a community.

In addition to supporting students with exceptionalities, other forum sessions focused on supporting diverse learners and handling difficult conversations in the classroom, which include teaching subjects on race, trauma and historical human rights crises.

“Our work is foundational, we believe we are working with students at the start and that our actions in the classroom begin a ripple effect through our communities,” said Kennedy. “As our guests left this year’s Diversity Forum, it was with the knowledge that all education is special education and that accessible classrooms are a need, for all students.”

Samford President, Beck A. Taylor providing opening remarks for the event. Following opening remarks, Orlean Beeson School of Education’s Diversity Award was presented to Jill Everette, an administrative assistant in the English Department at Samford and a member of the Staff Advisory Committee. Everette was nominated for her advocacy and continued focus on supporting students with disabilities in the community.

The 3rd Annual Diversity Forum was sponsored by Orlean Beeson School of Educations’ Diversity Committee and Samford’s Office of Student Success and Diversity, with support from the Louie M. and Betty M. Phillips Foundation.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.