The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has decided to cancel this summer’s Harold M. Marsh, Sr. Connections Institute, scheduled for August 3-7, 2020. This decision was not made lightly, as we know many people will be disappointed.

Each summer, Connections brings together high school students and volunteers to build a community, learn together, and develop action plans to make their schools and communities more inclusive. VCIC staff members have already been actively planning for this summer’s session. However, uncertainty regarding the length of time we will need to be socially distancing due to COVID-19 and the potential risk this virus could pose to Connections attendees make it impractical to move forward. Student recruitment also became significantly more challenging as a result of mandatory school closures across Virginia last month. Organizing Connections under normal circumstances is complicated, and with so many uncertainties at this time, we simply do not believe we can responsibly organize a successful summer retreat.

Rest assured, however, that even without the Connections Institute retreat this summer, the Connections spirit will remain strong. In fact, VCIC staff members are already developing ways to virtually engage volunteers and Connections alumni throughout the spring and summer, and we look forward to sharing those plans soon. We will also move quickly to schedule dates for the 2021 Connections Institute and will announce details as soon as we have them.

“One of the most fun engaging eye opening experiences of my life.”

— 2019 Student Participant

“Although it was an emotional roller coaster it was one of the best weeks of my life. I have never learned more and had more fun in very very long time.”

— 2019 Student Participant

The Harold M. Marsh, Sr. Connections Institute is a process of challenge, growth, and impact for high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Through carefully constructed interactive workshops, intense small group discussions, and experiential learning, student delegates are not only the beneficiaries of their Connections experience, but also the co-creators of it.

Connections begins with a five-day residential summer program that allows student delegates to break barriers, deal with biased behavior, and gain insight into their own lives and values.

At the conclusion of the program, delegates develop an action plan to reduce prejudice in their schools by applying their learning and experience to their own school communities. As delegates return from the program, VCIC staff is there to support the implementation process throughout the school year.

The Harold M. Marsh, Sr. Connections Institute (formerly Metrotown) is one of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ signature programs. Since 1993, this peer leadership experience has prepared student delegates to make decisions based on an appreciation of the vast diversity within Virginia.

Why should our school send a school team of delegates to Connections?

What are the benefits to students / delegates?

Because delegates are typically leaders in their schools and communities, they often arrive with previous experiences in communication and leadership training. However, they quickly discern that the Connections experience is different.

The goal of the Connections Institute is to promote respect and understanding among all people. Throughout the program, delegates come to better understand themselves and others. By the time they return to their home communities, delegates are able to relate to each other with a deep and unprecedented level of mutual regard and acceptance.

Past delegates credit Connections with giving them the opportunity to share successes and address challenges in their schools. They also have built life-long relationships with peers from across the state. Delegates receive support from VCIC and are able to connect with an alumni network.

What are the benefits to schools?

The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities actively works with schools across Virginia to assess climate and culture while working to remove barriers to inclusion. Therefore VCIC knows the authentic perspectives of students. This experience means VCIC has collected a variety of best practices and strategies, customizable to meet the needs of your school.

Schools have credited the Connections Institute with providing active strategies to increase individual and collective leadership in students. In addition, in the face of bias incidents, schools have relied on the input and leadership of their team of student delegates and alumni to support to galvanize inclusive actions.

Schools report that delegates return highly motivated to implement action plans in their school and are eager to share the message with other students. This in turn motivates other students to lead, which results in greater collective impact.

What are the benefits to educators / sponsors?

Educators that have sent a team of delegates credit Connections with increasing their motivation to invest in student development and school climate. In addition, educators are given the opportunity to join a state-wide network of people committed to increasing inclusion in their schools and communities. Through this network, educators can learn about best practices from other schools and individuals across the state.

Past educators have expressed appreciation for VCIC’s availability for on-call support and coaching as they encountered difficulties throughout the school year.

Educators who have chosen to volunteer at the program have credited Connections as a professional development opportunity while earning recertification points and improving their own teaching strategies

What support does VCIC offer beyond the 5-day residential program?

The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities offers many opportunities for schools, delegates, and educators to engage beyond the August program. By sending a delegation to Connections, schools receive on-call support from VCIC for questions or concerns related to action plan implementation.

For those interested in a hands on approach, VCIC is able to provide three customized follow-up workshops for your Connections delegates during the following school year for an additional cost of $375.  During these sessions, delegates receive in-the-moment troubleshooting and coaching, intentional time for reflection on Connections experience, and an opportunity to connect and hear from Connections alumni and volunteer staff. Please contact VCIC if you would like to add this benefit to your delegation registration.

If schools are interested in other offerings throughout the year, VCIC invites you to engage in these ways:

Diversity Dialogue Day

Educator Professional Development

Volunteer Opportunities

Sign up for our educator Newsletter – Building Inclusive Schools

Frequently Asked Questions

Connections is a yearlong process of challenge, growth, and impact for high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The experience begins with a five-day residential program during the summer that allows student delegates to break barriers, deal with biased behavior, and develop an action plan to reduce prejudice in their schools.

At the Connections Institute, students share ideas and feelings, discover their own unique talents, and experience a variety of perspectives on prejudice, discrimination, and identity. They come up with creative solutions to the tough challenges they may face in the future. Because delegates are leaders in their schools and communities, they often arrive with previous experiences in communication and leadership training. However, they quickly discern that the Connections experience is different. The goal of the Connections Institute is to promote respect and understanding among all people. Throughout the program, delegates come to better understand themselves and others. By the time they return to their home communities, delegates are able to relate to each other with a deep and unprecedented level of mutual regard and acceptance.

Connections delegates represent the wide diversity of Virginians, with a variety of racial, economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Together, they possess a range of perspectives and experiences that provide the perfect foundation for the learning that will occur at the summer Connections experience and throughout the school year while implementing their action plans. High schools select a team of up to five delegates, based on students’ interest, motivation, and leadership ability. All delegates must be entering grades 10 through 12 in the upcoming school year.

Unfortunately not. VCIC has found that institutional change is best achieved through collective action. Therefore, registration is limited to teams of delegates.

If you are an individual who would like to bring the Connections experience to your school, please do not hesitate to reach out so VCIC can set up a time to talk with relevant administrators and leaders.

It is possible for a community or non-profit group to send a delegation to Connections. However, these requests are handled on a case-by-case basis. Please email VCIC to explore this possibility.

Yes, charter bus transportation is provided for participating delegates from central locations across Virginia. Details on estimated departure and arrival times will be mailed directly to delegates approximately 1 month prior to the program.

Staff members at the Connections Institute are as diverse as the delegates, representing many races, religions, and backgrounds.  They come from across Virginia, united in a desire to promote understanding. Composed of professional adult leaders and college students with experience in human relations education, Connections staff members provide caring support and careful supervision to guide the delegates throughout the week. One aspect of Connections’ success is the devotion of the staff, who view the program as much more than a week-long training, giving their time and lives to the core values of unity and understanding.

Staff applications will be available on our volunteer page.

Thanks to generous donors, and with particular appreciation to the R.E.B. Foundation, more than 30% of the costs for a school team to participate in the Connections Institute are subsidized. Participating schools pay only $2,000 for a delegation of up to five students. That fee includes round trip bus transportation from central locations, meals, lodging, delegate insurance, and ongoing support to schools throughout the academic year. Each delegate receives a t-shirt, materials, and a follow-up networking package.

In addition, VCIC is able to provide three customized follow-up workshops for your delegates during the following school year for an additional cost of $375.

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