The West Side STEM Learning Center (SLC), housed at George Leland Elementary School, will serve as an anchoring site in the community for STEM learning pathways for youth. The SLC will focus on providing local middle and high school students with high-quality STEM opportunities that will positively impact their self-efficacy and confidence in science and engineering, and develop their critical thinking skills. The programs and opportunities developed for the SLC will be identified through a series of community meetings with stakeholder partners, including parents and youth, as well as concrete collaborations between local partners and STEM-focused institutions across the city of Chicago. Ultimately, the SLC aims to be a neighborhood-based hub for youth, families, and teachers; it will amplify the value of STEM learning in the community and bridge citywide STEM resources with local assets.
This work is being led by Project Exploration, the backbone organization of the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (STEM Co-op), a collaborative effort that convenes stakeholders in Chicago’s STEM ecosystem to address inequities in the STEM learning continuum by facilitating cross-sector knowledge building, collaboration, and collective action.
Through the Glimmer grant, we will accomplish the following:
- Collect existing data on youth engagement and participation in STEM learning activities in the Austin neighborhood.
- Engage community stakeholders – including families and youth – to map community needs and concerns related to STEM learning opportunities.
- Recruit and identify Hive partners to deliver youth programs through “residencies” at the SLC.
What we have learned through the Glimmer Grant:
Discussions with stakeholders, including Austin Coming Together, local principals, data partners, and students have revealed that the community seeks to amplify the value of STEM skills for youth. Key takeaways from listening sessions conducted by Project Exploration in Fall 2017 takeaways reveal that 1.) youth are looking for opportunities for gainful employment; 2.) families want to feel invested in the SLC through meaningful collaborations; 3.) the SLC should be inclusive to students across the West Side, not just Austin; and 4.) students desire recognition of their value to the community and seek opportunities to “level up” into leadership positions.
In response to the these stated needs, the SLC envisions:
- Catalyzing and modeling excellence in STEM education by offering programs that reflect best practices in STEM out-of-school time learning.
- Linking and leveraging existing STEM learning initiatives across the city to the local community.
- Expanding the impact of the regional STEM schools (Leland and Clark) by providing a community-based hub of STEM programming beyond the classroom.
- Strengthening the community’s reputation as a place of quality STEM education and innovation.
Project Exploration is also using best practices and strategies in placemaking to intentionally and thoughtfully engage community members in co-developing the SLC. In support of this work, Project Exploration has partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation to co-design and co-facilitate a community conversation or summit bringing together Austin stakeholders and Hive organizations for a deep discussion on connecting external STEM resources to the neighborhood. This conversation will be situated in an asset-based approach, providing a forum for
community members to drive the discussion and speak for themselves on the kinds of STEM experiences they want in the community.