By Emily Stifler, Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Big Sky resident Barbara Rowley joined 50 other mothers April 28-30 in Washington, D.C., for the third annual Mom Congress.

Hosted by Parenting magazine, the conference this year was held by Georgetown University and the National Press Club. Delegates from each state and the District of Columbia attended, each selected for her involvement in education. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was one of the featured presenters.

The conference theme was parental engagement in the schools, and other topics of interest included global education, wellness, the state of public schools, fundraising and social media.

“As parents, being involved in schools is a huge factor in student and school success,” Rowley said.

A number of delegates from past years returned, including lobbyists, Rowley said. One, she noted, met with the President the previous week. In total, about 100 people attended the conference, not including speakers and the magazine staff.

During the global education discussion, the group heard from the executive director of the Model UN.

“I’ve heard about [the Model UN] for years, but was glad to be reminded of what a great fit it could be in Big Sky for teaching geography, politics and current issues,” Rowley said, noting that the University of Montana has one of the longest running programs in the country.

Rowley described Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as dynamic and interesting. She said he gave a great overview of the public school situation in the U.S. that included statistics about high school and college.

“When the president and I were growing up you could get a good job with a High School degree,” Rowley recounted Duncan telling the group. But today, “without some kind of training beyond high school, you can’t.”
“He was also all about early childhood education,” Rowley said. “Schools must invest in education from cradle to career.”

Mark Kennedy Shriver, vice president of Save the Children, also made an impression on Rowley.

Shriver was passionate about the 6 million kids living in poverty, Rowley said, and about how many of those kids won’t learn to read. Kids don’t get the resources and help they need because “they don’t vote,” he said, encouraging the delegates to call their representatives and demand early education intervention.

“It’s good to see somebody fired up and passionate about these issues, especially when we live in Big Sky, and we don’t experience how real these issues really are,” Rowley said.

The event’s official ‘cause partner’ was Shot@Life, a program through the United Nations Foundation that works to vaccinate children worldwide.

Rowley found that relevant because the Lone Peak High School sophomore curriculum for science, history and English focuses on studying plagues—how they’ve affected history, the way they’re transmitted, and reading literature related to them.

Getting involved with a program like Shot@Life could be a way for the Big Sky kids “to realize how lucky we are, and how much we owe to the world to try to do a good job and educate our kids,” Rowley said. That way, “they can go out and keep working on these problems.”

Rowley has two daughters in the Big Sky School system and is a contributor to Parenting magazine.

“I wanted to go because I wanted to learn,” she said. “There’s nothing like getting out and meeting people from around the country that are engaged in public education, as well as speakers who are professionally committed to and leading public education.”