How one local educator encourages “curly girls” to join STEAM fields

When Analise Harris began working as a special education teacher at public schools in Denver, she was unprepared for the inequality she witnessed in the largest school district in Colorado. One day in 2018, a young black student was suspended after she refused to take off her sweatshirt and pink bandana she was wearing to class. The administration alleged a violation of the dress code, but Harris – who was the girl’s teacher – realized that the student was trying to cover her braids, which had not yet been completed. The student retired to class out of embarrassment over a bad haircut.

A year earlier, Harris had launched Curls on the block as a non-profit student empowerment organization that she lovingly calls “curls”. Funding for the project came from winning the DPS’s Imaginarium Design Challenge 2016. But it was this particular classroom incident that inspired her to create after-school programs for students. Through the after-school curriculum, Harris teaches girls of all hair colors and types how to care for their strands, and in the process, pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM).

Initially, Harris focused her curriculum on beauty and self-esteem. But Harris quickly realized she could move on. “I didn’t want this to be just ‘accepting myself,'” says Harris. “It’s all great, but how can we further encourage these girls to connect with their careers? more. They can change their communities. “

The Curls on the Block curriculum consists of 10 sessions during the semester in which students study the science and care of hair. It may not seem like an obvious pairing, but Harris has become adept at combining the two: one of her favorite activities is teaching girls how to make flaxseed hair gel from scratch, an endeavor that allows participants to use a scientific method to create a product for hair that I can use at home.

The amount of positive feedback Harris received from parents and teachers inspired her to start another 2017 project. Miss Curly USA pageant. The competition is open to girls aged three and over and consists of several titles separated by age. Those who win get a one-year reign, a trip to hair festivals like CurlFestopportunities to be a brand ambassador for companies like International Spectrum Cosmeticsphotography and cash prize.

However, unlike traditional competitions, Harris has created a competition that transcends beauty. One of the primary aspects of the competition is the entrepreneurial component: Competitors must present an idea, product or service that meets the needs of the curly community and is related to STEAM principles. “I really wanted to avoid that feeling of ‘bikini competition’ that has so many competitors,” says Harris. “Instead, girls can show what is really important to them. They can compete in everything from cultural regalia to their taekwondo equipment. ”

According to Harris, a number of contestants and students in the program have become business owners, creatives and activists in Denver, such as Trinity Birch — the owner of a popular braiding business. Exotic Expressions—And Jada Dorsey, a 12-year-old founder Selfiea new selfie museum in downtown Aurora.

Despite the challenges of running a small nonprofit – extensive paperwork and a lack of staff and volunteers, for example – Harris is excited about the future of Curls on the Block. Camp Curly, a weekly summer camp that teaches young girls the science of hair health, is scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 18th. It is also planned to hold the Miss Curly USA pageant this fall, in Orlando, Florida. “Seeing these girls bloom is what keeps me going,” says Harris. “When they succeed, all the challenges are worth it.”

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