WINCHESTER – This summer, 400 to 600 students from as a many as 140 countries will flock to Winchester for a week of discussing global relationships and development.

“It’s an opportunity not just for us, but for the state and the country to host this. We’re ambassadors for the United States,” said Justin Kerns, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau during the tourism board meeting Thursday.

The International Education and Resource Network, more commonly known by its moniker iEARN, was birthed in the Cold War era when educators from Moscow and New York wanted students to look beyond an us-versus-them mentality and embrace a more global, humanitarian outlook on the world.

Today, iEARN organizes international projects that involve two million students in more than 140 countries. The program hosts an annual International Conference and Youth Summit, with this year’s event focusing on global collaboration for sustainable development.

This will be the first time in 20 years that the U.S. has hosted the conference.

“We can’t just learn in isolation anymore. We really have to learn with the world in order to improve the problems that the world has,” said Fay Stump, a former library and media specialist at John Handley High School, who has been working to organize the event.

Why was a city in the northwest corner of  Virginia chosen for this international conference? According to Stump, it’s because of how pretty John Handley High School is.

When Stump traveled to Morocco for the 2017 iEARN conference, all the events were held in a palace-like hotel. As nice as the accommodations were, however, Stump said the building was riddled with tech issues and many times presenters were obligated to continue their presentations without  PowerPoint.

“I suggested to them, ‘You ever thought about having it, instead of just in a hotel, having it in a high school where the students could really see it?’” Stump said. “Handley was just named as the most beautiful high school in that state by Architectural Digest that week, and I kind of said, ‘What about, like, Handley?’”

The superintendent got involved, and ultimately Winchester was selected as the site of the 2018 conference. The weeklong event begins July 8.

Stump emphasized the need for donations not just from businesses, but also from local residents.

“There’s a way for anyone who wants to be involved to get involved, if you just let us know what it is that you would like to do or how you would like to be involved,” Stump said. For example, she is looking for volunteers to help pick up international program coordinators arriving at Dulles the Friday before the program kicks off.

Also at the tourism council meeting Thursday, Winchester downtown manager Jennifer Bell said the newly created Old Town Development Board Tourism Task Force would request $40,000 to construct four road signs advertising Old Town Winchester along Interstate 81.

Bell said 50,000 passenger cars travel through that section of the I-81 corridor each day.

“It’s really an amazing number of people that would see, and be exposed to that sign,” Bell said. “It could really be amazing exposure. And it would be up for years.”

The project would include two large road signs for northbound and southbound traffic, as well as two smaller signs on the exit ramps.

Kerns also reported Thursday that visitor guide ad sales had closed and sales were up 21.6 percent over last year, for a total of $29,375.

Also at the meeting Tuesday:

  • The board will host the introductory meeting for the area’s LOVEworks program from  5:30–6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Visitors Center. The state-sponsored program enlists communities to create large, outdoor art pieces featuring the letters “LOVE” with regional decorations. The state reimburses communities up to $1,500 per installation.
  • Kerns spoke with representatives from Roots Rated, a website that hosts articles about outdoor activities and retailers across the country, to share content from Winchester-Frederick County tourism. Kerns cited the city’s “8 Great Cups of Coffee in Winchester” blog post as an example of something that could be reposted.
  • Winchester’s third annual Old Town St. Paddy’s Celtic Fest is scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. March 10.