JCPS Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens, Mayor Greg Fischer and Congressman John Yarmuth were on hand Friday morning to kick off the annual JCPS IdeaFestival. The event, held at Spalding University, was attended by students from nearly every high school in Louisville, a total of around 600 students overall.

The event featured TED-style talks delivered by students from across the city on a variety of topics. The theme was “Connectivity.”

Hargens said that this was her “favorite event of the year” and was an example of JCPS’s “Vision 2020 in action.” Vision 2020 is the school system’s strategic plan that puts focus on learning, growth and development as well as improving culture. She told students that the presentations were an example of “a form of authentic assessment” of learning.

Fischer took the stage to loud applause and said that “IdeaFestival represents our future.” He praised the presenters in advance and said that it was “important that these voices be heard.” His parting advice to students was: “Learn something new every day. Do a compassionate act every day.”

Fischer introduced Yarmuth, calling him “the smartest congressman in the United States.”

“We’re in a battle in this country over what direction we take,” Yarmuth said. Students greeted him like a rock star.

He said that in not too distant history “over a 1,000-year period, it didn’t matter when you were born. Life was going to be the same to you.” Then that period was reduced to 100 years. “Today, every five to seven years, the world changes fundamentally. You have to change the way you live every five to seven years now.” He added that by the time the audience graduated from college, the world would be fundamentally different.

“The world,” Yarmuth said, “depends on you.”

Shan’Taya Cowan, a senior at Fairdale High School who has recently been accepted by Harvard University, kicked off the program by delivering two slam poems: “She…” and “The Jungle Where I’m From.” She intends to study African-American studies and political science in college.

Allison Addie, a junior from duPont Manual High School’s YPAS, then delivered a TED-style talk called “Connecting with Classical Music.” She played snippets of classical music on her flute and encouraged the audience to connect what they were hearing to words, emotions and stories.

Addie told IL that her dream school is McGill University in Montreal. Her favorite subjects are social studies and English. She wants to join an orchestra either as a musician or as an administrator.

Jack Bradley, a junior at duPont Manual High School, and Pearl Morttey, a student at Fern Creek, represented the Kentucky-wide Student Voice Team. The Student Voice Team is an advocacy group that encourages students to have a say in how they are educated. Both talked about the main focus of their advocacy.

Morttey said that most students are not taken seriously as partners with adults in their education. She said, “We are the experts in school climate” and told a story about a schoolwide poll in which the adults listed bullying as the least of their concerns and the teenagers listed it as their top concern.

Bradley, who has autism and Tourette syndrome, spends half of his school days in advanced AP classes and half in special education classes. He said that many academic competitions, including the Governor’s Cup, did not offer accommodations to students with learning differences. He said that there are around 12,000 students with learning accommodations in JCPS alone.

This is the fourth year for JCPS IdeaFestival.