Afterschool Education in STEAM

STEAM afterschoolS&S Worldwide recently sponsored the National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award for Afterschool for 2017, and we are very proud of all of the nominees and winners! This is a great opportunity to highlight these afterschool professionals and the dedication they have to their programs.

Ashley Conroy shares her experience as an afterschool leader:

As a lover of learning, I am always trying to figure out what makes a good urban teacher, especially through my interactions with students, family and community. A great lesson I learned was not from a graduate education course, but from an insightful grandmother. She explained that her grandson was now at an age where he would enter a vicious cycle and she could see him starting to make the same poor decisions she had seen so many times. “What they need,” she said, “is someone to teach them that life goes beyond the block.” I’ve thought about that for many years, about how sensitive but bold an individual must be to break those barriers and prove what can be a different future. Teachers in this system require balance; they must weigh all of the emotion that is required to work with a human medium. I truly believe in education as an opportunity to shape socially conscious individuals who are willing to help bring change to a world in need, and I want to make sure that every child in this city has that opportunity.

STEAM afterschool

I was given the opportunity to receive my teacher training at Columbia College Chicago (CCC). Their program challenged me academically, but more importantly it challenged me to see the world differently. It allowed me to see society through different experiences and how those differences affect children and their education. Within the first few weeks of attending CCC, I met a man who would turn out to be another great influence in my life, my mentor, Marcelo Caplan. Though I did not know it at first, our education philosophies aligned, and he, more than anyone I had met until that point, believed I would be a great teacher.

Marcelo invited me to a Professional Development for a program called Scientists for Tomorrow. He promised that my attendance was not a commitment, that I should simply come to see what the program had to offer me in terms of my educational experience. During that first session, I learned how to build a solar powered car, and was forever hooked. For the past five years, I have worked closely with the Scientists for Tomorrow program, first as an instructor, then as the Associate Coordinator. Scientists for Tomorrow, in collaboration with the Department of Science and Mathematics at CCC, and selected Chicago community organizations, work with the youth and families from some of Chicago’s most distressed neighborhoods. The program enables families to realize the benefits of a well-rounded education that includes strong instruction in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related fields. We have developed and taught 10 week modules such as “Alternative Energy” in which we build solar powered cars, and “The Physics of Sound and Mathematics of Music” where students build a monochord, wind chime and xylophone of their own. Through this program, I have worked with students at the Association House in Humboldt Park, the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School with girls from various south side neighborhoods, and both Castellanos and Eli Whitney Elementary Schools in Little Village.

aftesrchool education

After graduating from Columbia, I accepted a 6th grade math and science teaching position within Chicago Public Schools at DeWitt Clinton Elementary School. This school is located in West Rogers park, one of Chicago’s (and the United States’) most diverse zip codes. In my two classrooms alone, there are twelve different languages that are spoken including Arabic, Urdu, Malay, Burmese, Somali, Turkish, Vietnamese, Tegulu, Chaldean, Swahili, as well as English and Spanish. These students come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, and some are refugees seeking permanent housing in Chicago.

As soon as funding was available, I started teaching Scientists for Tomorrow afterschool at Clinton. This was a whole new experience because I had a deeper connection with these students, their families and the community. We’re on our third year, and I have 8th graders who come back to be teaching assistants and continue the cycle of community. We have learned about alternative energy, the mathematics and physics of sound and music, and the science of robotics. In doing so, we have built solar powered cars, monochords, wind chimes, xylophones, mouse-trap powered cars, robo-bugs and many other small projects that built up the skills to build larger ones.

The goal has, and always will be, to expose students to what is possible in the realm of STEM without a textbook, and to consider potential high school, college and career choices. The activity we are involved with that most promotes this goal is the STEAM conference. Each year Northeastern Illinois University partners with Columbia College Chicago to “provide middle school, high school, teachers/educators and parents to attend 40 unique concurrent hands-on workshops session in science, technology, engineering, art/architecture/agriculture and mathematics (STEAM). One of the unique features of the conference is that the presenters are middle school and high school students that participate in pre-college academic programs, Pathways Initiatives and Scientist for Tomorrow Initiatives.” My students have presented and taught projects on three separate occasions and it has been invaluable to them every time. They look forward to the conference each year, and prepare tirelessly to make sure they give each participant the best experience they can. As for me, there is not much more a teacher could hope for than to have the opportunity to watch her students teacher others.

Here is a quote from Debi Prince, Resource Coordinator at Prince, who nominated Ashley for the Next Generation award. “Ashley is the most dedicated , loving and energetic teacher. Clinton is a school of 1200 K-8 students with a diverse population. We have a large population of refugees. Ashley is a fabulous educator and human being. She makes all her students feel important and has the ability to engage all her students in any topic she is teaching. She goes above and beyond to make time for every child’s needs. Students learn in various ways and Ashley finds the teaching style that best fits the needs of all. Many of her students speak no English and that still doesn’t stop her. We need more people in this world like Ashley.”

To learn more about the National Afterschool Association (NAA) visit We proudly support their mission and dedication to the afterschool community.

About the Author:
after school Ashley Conroy has been a math and science teacher for 3 years at Clinton Elementary School. She graduated from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s in Psychology before receiving her MAT at Columbia College Chicago. She is also involved in several committees at her school in en effort to promote science instruction such as the Science Committee Coordinator, Instructional Leader Team member, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Connect program member. She looks forward to a continued partnership with DePaul University to help her further enhance her science instruction in the classroom, and in the afterschool setting.

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