Michelle Campbell, chair of the conference, first began working with the REACH Center in Seattle. "Typically, we went into schools and talked to teachers with trainers," Campbell explains, adding that the trainers would receive a year and a half of training in the REACH curriculum in order to give educators the knowledge and cultural competency to succeed in a culturally and racially diverse world. Eventually, though, instead of seeking out those educators, Campbell thought: "Why not bring all those teachers to one place?"
So she started the Colorado REACH Conference, which has grown to incorporate presentations from educators, students from elementary to college age, and community leaders; it's trained over 1,500 participants in multicultural education methods. This year, the conference is also focusing on infusing multicultural education and STEAM (STEM with the inclusion of Arts) into the REACH curriculum.
"We have a chance in society to share the full perspective around opportunities available for students in STEAM fields," explains Campbell. "As long as teachers are excited, students will be, too." She points to REACH's fundamental goal of helping educators "gain perspective about why various cultures are important" and then translate that knowledge in the classroom. One of REACH's core principles, in fact, is that participants will take responsibility in ensuring that all voices are represented.
A recent Junior Achievement study found that girls still lag behind boys in pursuit of STEM-related fields, and Campbell hopes that the REACH Conference will help encourage teachers to "celebrate diversity in those fields."
"If you've never met a woman astronaut, or a black engineer or a Native American scientist, students will be able to have those combinations in their lesson plan, and that's pretty amazing," she notes.
Additionally, Campbell emphasizes the conference's focus on STEAM, not just STEM. "There's a lot of research about left- and right-brained people," she notes, "that show the arts are highly important to linear people." Campbell believes incorporating STEAM into the REACH curriculum will continue to help teach students about the possibilities for diversity across disciplines.
The REACH Conference, which runs through June 22, is sponsored by groups ranging from AT&T to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Comcast and Kaiser Permanente, among many others. Ed Dwight, a Denver-based sculptor who was also the first black astronaut candidate, and Vanessa Blacknall-Jamison, chairwoman of the national Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, will both give keynote addresses. There's also a new law enforcement portion.
This year's gathering will end tomorrow, but in some aspects, the conference's work is just beginning: Next year Campbell's organization will conduct conferences outside of the state for the first time — in Missouri and Texas — and then outside of the country, in Capetown, South Africa.