I founded the CO APE Conference because I knew firsthand how expensive it could be to seek professional development in a relatively small field of expertise. I wanted to create access to quality presentations at affordable prices for teachers.
When starting the conference, I found that one of the biggest challenges was handling the finances. I wanted to launch quickly and didn’t want to start a nonprofit alone, and I know there is such an intricacy to them. I didn’t want to create an LLC for this; that does take some financial backing to start. I partnered with an existing nonprofit that aligned with my mission. They can accept the payments on their system, cover our event under their insurance umbrella, and sign contracts.
Choosing a location: I live close to the resort we have our conference. There were for a few reasons: it was convenient for me, I had built a connection with the staff, and I felt strongly that if I could get the pricing affordable, why shouldn’t the teachers get to stay at a luxury resort? I was a year postpartum and wanted to be close to my kids in my first year of starting the conference. I mentioned convenience, and that was important to me. Where I live is 6 hours from Denver. Yes, most APE teachers live near the Denver Metro Region, but I wanted to host it on the Western Slope to provide greater access to those who are typically unable to afford the long drive and extra night’s stay.
Securing speakers in the first year included putting out an all-call on social media and then individually emailing people I thought would be fantastic speakers and asking them specifically if they would present. I had buy-in from the Colorado Department of Education with financial support to our keynote speakers to assist with the associated costs of the conference. I submitted a poll to the CDE’s listserve for those currently serving as APE teachers or interested in what topics they would like to see presented at the conference. At the end of our first year, participants filled out surveys for presenters and then overall for the conference on what they liked and what they wanted to see for next year.
My key goals for the conference were to make it affordable, have quality presentations, and try to spoil the specialists who do so much for many underserved students. These goals have stayed the same from years one to two. I meet these goals by working hard to secure vendors and sponsorships to keep the costs low for attendees. I partner with several local businesses and equipment companies to get several items to giveaway to participants and to fill swag bags. When selecting my keynote speakers and presentations, I think critically from a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens.
I believe the CO APE Conference has put a positive spotlight on the profession and made it seem more valid in the eyes of people who may not have paid it any attention. For my small community of Montrose, it has brought attention to the region’s true beauty and to giving hearts that belong to our local businesses. I couldn’t be more proud of where I live. Soon after this event, the CDE APE Advisory Council pushed the additional endorsement for APE. Finally, we can have that on our credentials! I witnessed other specialists in my former district and recreational center staff partake in the conference and start thinking of ways to include more physical movement for everyone! The local rec center now offers more adaptive sports opportunities!
My hopes for the future of the conference include continuing to bring quality professional development to adapted physical education specialists. I will ensure this event’s continued success and relevance by seeking input from my fellow APEs on what they need for their educational toolkits. Maintaining and creating partnerships with organizations and businesses will also be critical to the conference’s success. We appreciate all the support and social media love that we have received and look forward to continuing to serve this often undervalued group of teachers.
Danielle Musser, M.S., CAPE
Founder and Director of the CO APE Conference