The core mission of the day’s events was to gather Chicago’s STEM education and OST community in one place in order to learn about Chicago’s STEM OST landscape, hear from others in the field to understand best practices and lessons learned, and to help further the process of creation, innovation and collaboration among members of Chicago’s STEM OST community.
An important part of the day revolved around the presentation of data by Andrew Rice, of Chicago Allies for Youth Success. Josh was an integral part of the planning and data gathering for the State of STEM in Out-of-School-Time in Chicago. Beginning at the beginning of 2012, the planning group began gathering data from local institutions, including non-profit organizations, schools and universities, museums, libraries and more, all of whom were providing STEM during OST. The data were gathered and reported in a brief summary report that was presented on Monday.
So, what did we learn? Well, more than 2,032 STEM OST programs were run by more than 500 organizations in 2011, and these programs served 88,576 youth. Most of these programs are targeted to middle school, and the gender split is roughly even, with 56.2% of females served, and 43.8% of males served. 44% of the participants were African American and 28% were Latino. Just for perspective, youth from these populations represent approximately 42% and 44%, respectively. Most of the programs we learned about target low-income, academically at-risk students, and students who are at-risk for violence. Finally, we were able to see the geographic distribution of Chicago’s STEM OST programs, which were mapped, and demonstrated that there are STEM OST programs in almost all Chicago neighborhoods, and these programs ran the gamut of STEM programs. In terms of types of programs, about 69% were inquiry-based, hands on, about 26% were academically focused or tutoring programs, and there were events as well. Most programs run in the school year versus the summer, and engineering is the area that is least represented in the programs offered. The surprises? Latino students are underrepresented in these programs, as are undocumented students. Libraries, museums and universities are underutilized as program sites in the summer compared with the school year.
Following our data discussion, we heard from colleagues in the STEM OST field, who are doing great work and had lessons to share with the attendees. The speakers on the panel, which was moderated by Dan O’Neil from Smart Chicago, included Akeishia Craven-Howell of Chciago Public Schools, Jessica Donner from the Collaborative for Building After School Systems, Damian Ewens from the Providence After School Alliance, Michael Ramirez from the University of Illinois Chicago, and John Tolva, from the City of Chicago’s Office of the Mayor. The conversation that ensued was dynamic, lively and compelling. Jessica shared her experience with building out STEM programming for the afterschool space, and one of the most critical lessons she had to share was that true inquiry is a vital part of any successful program. Damian has shaped a STEM pathway in the city of Providence, and he shared the opportunities and challenges inherent in the process, which include the opportunity to change the course of young people’s lives and to generate great opportunities for excellent youth development through STEM, as well as the logistical and funding issues that come along with the process. Michael, a Project Exploration alum, shared his experience as a young person who’s interest in STEM was lit by Project Exploration’s outstanding offerings, and he detailed what made the different for him, including caring adults, a longitudinal approach, and hands-on experiences that helped him feel like a scientist at a young age, as these experiences showed him that he could pursue STEM, and that he could succeed. These experiences also placed college in his sights, and he’s excited to be a student at UIC.
Akeshia shared her experience as CPS’ Officer of Pathways to College and Careers, and discussed the important role that STEM plays in students’ lives, as well as some ideas she had for deepening the relationship between CPS and the Chicago STEM OST community. Finally, John shared his own thoughts, as well as a city-wide perspective, on how the Chicago STEM OST community could continue to serve and enhance their role in the success of Chicago’s youth. Open data were an important part of his discussion, as he is excited about the prospect of making data more readily available (protecting privacy along the way, of course!). The shared knowledge in the room was excellent, and we didn’t hit lunch before everyone started to realize that we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves, with a real opportunity to change the lives of young people in our community. It was clear that there was a feeling of inspiration in the room, and the buzz of guests at the event, eager to act and work together, was electric.