The folks at KidZone Museum are on a quest for change — and they’re in good company. KidZone was selected along with four other museums — The Discovery in Reno, the Butterfly Pavilion in Colorado, the Museum of Science in Boston, and Space Center Houston — for a yearlong professional development program through an initiative called Cambio.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, Cambio — which means “change” in Spanish — is on a mission to help museums shift their practices to create STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experiences that are culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining to Latinx audiences. According to cambioexperience.org, the program is built on the premise that by developing cultural competence specific to Latinx communities and STEM, coupled with intentional changes in practice, museums can improve their ability to be inclusive of their Latinx communities, cultures, and audiences.
“Our purpose is to really understand how what we do here supports science learning and how we can bring that to our Hispanic community and learn from them,” said KidZone Engagement Committee Chair Helen Pelster. “What it means to them and how we can support them going forward, and how we can be better communicators and how our exhibits can better support our Hispanic community.”
While KidZone doesn’t have any concrete figures on the number of Hispanic community members they serve, the nonprofit estimates 75% to 80% of the outreach families the museum serves are Latinx.
“We do ask for race/ethnicity on the sign-in form we use for in-person outreach or group visits to the museum,” said KidZone Philanthrophy Officer Jen Parker. “Many times, the question does not get answered, so it’s very difficult to get correct, meaningful information regarding how many Latino families we serve.”
Parker said that from June 2022 to May 2023, KidZone provided 28 scholarships for memberships and served 1,220 kids and adults, both on- and offsite, in its outreach programs. “If we take 80% of that, it would be just under 1,000 kids and adults in that time frame,” she noted.
In fact, its existing outreach and community advocate program efforts are the reason KidZone Museum was selected to be in a cohort with such larger-scale operations. Leveraging community partnerships is at the heart of everything KidZone does, and the Cambio initiative is a perfect fit. The cohort started off with a full day Zoom meeting, followed by a two-day meeting in San Diego. KidZone’s three-person team, which includes Pelster and the museum’s community advocates, Nataly Zarate and Carla Boscacci, attended the San Diego meeting, and for the remainder of the year will be supported with monthly meetings.
“We’re all learning from each other,” Pelster said of KidZone’s fellow cohort members. “The professional develop ment, the education that we’re getting right now as a team has already been really amazing. And we already have a ton of ideas that we’re working on [for] our own specific initiative to help support the Hispanic community.”
Between its ongoing partnership with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District in hosting a dedicated evening for families with children with disabilities, and its work to help support the Hispanic community, KidZone has already been learning how to be more aware and more understanding of people who have different needs and different backgrounds.
Pelster said it can be something as simple as terminology that can help make a difference.
“The platinum rule is to treat others how they would like to be treated. And so, just getting comfortable with asking the question, “How do you identify? How would you like to be called in English or Spanish?” she said. “We learned what helps them feel welcome and able to be part of our community here. So, it’s already been a really wonderful experience.”
While it can be intimidating to be in company with such larger, more well-known institutions like Boston’s Museum of Science and Space Center Houston, it has also been complementary.
“It’s just really exciting, being with these big museums and seeing what they’re doing, and seeing how they’re wishing that they were doing what our grassroots organization is doing,” Pelster said.
She shared that the team hopes to have a concrete action plan in place by November, for which KidZone will be awarded a grant for $5,000 to help support it through the Cambio program. What that plan will look like is still in the works, but Pelster said one area the nonprofit is looking to enhance is its Spanish language social media presence and publishing a periodic newsletter in Spanish.
“Another thing is just engaging in more specific conversations about what science education means to members of our Hispanic community, and really learning from our community what they’re hoping their children are getting from their kids’ own museum experience,” Pelster said. “Then, in turn, help figure out how we can help communicate that when you bring your child to KidZone, yes, you’re playing and you’re relaxing and you’re meeting new people, but you’re supporting curiosity and learning that hopefully sets a foundation for a lifetime of learning and exploration.”
Adding to the reason KidZone was selected for Cambio is a dedicated science center that will be part of the museum’s new facility to be built at the Truckee River Regional Park in the coming years. To date, KidZone’s programming has been targeted at younger, preschool-aged children. The new science center will also be geared toward tweens and teens.
“What we’re hoping for with all of our programming is to spark the interest in science,” Pelster said.
“We definitely see this as being extremely important to our new museum and science center, to be able to really support this science identity within the community and really help get the older kids — who may not be into sports or band — and give them something, give them a spark.”