Renewed District 211 STEAM program gives girls jump-start on their futures

Renewed District 211 STEAM program gives girls jump-start on their futures

Grouped together at Conant High School, fifth and sixth grade girls used bungee cords to drop Barbies over a balcony railing, grinning as the plastic dolls dove and dipped.

This wasn't child's play. It was physics ... and inspiration.

The Barbie drop - one of many experiments the girls completed together - had them differentiating between speed, velocity and acceleration and contrasting Newton's three laws.

It also introduced them to new concepts within the realm of science, engineering, mathematics and, at a young age, piquing their interest before they get to Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.

The Barbie Bungee drop had participants differentiating between speed, velocity and acceleration as part of the Girls STEAM Ahead event (formerly GEMS) at District 211. Courtesy of District 211

"This event was all about truly engaging these girls in activities that take brain power, but also can be fun, so that they can further understand things they've begun to learn in school," said Michele Napier, director of College and Career Readiness at District 211.

"We want to instill an interest at a young age and help them realize careers in these fields are possible. Sometimes all it takes is one person, or one activity, to help them see they can be anything they want."

She's seen the success stories.

The Girls STEAM Ahead program (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) was formerly known as GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science).

Girls work together to build towers from toothpicks and marshmallows, one of many activities at District 211's Girls STEAM Ahead event, intended to pique early interest in science, technology, mathematics and engineering. Courtesy of District 211

For years, it's gotten girls thinking about their futures. Many said years later, as District 211 seniors, that the program was the reason they'd be studying such careers in college.

More than 150 girls participated in this year's new iteration, which engaged and incorporated the arts as part of the science and math curriculum, and focused on exploring, creating and building.

Workshops were led by District 211 teachers and more than 50 enthusiastic District 211 student volunteers, who, in addition to the Barbie Bungee experiment, worked with participants on projects like a wired light-up greeting card, creative engineering design and the combination of solutions, and a team activity requiring building towers with marshmallows.

Female enrollment in District 211 science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses has grown through the years, and Napier and others are excited to see the trend continue.

"In District 211, our goal is to inspire our students toward future success, no matter what their future may look like," Napier said.

"Providing innovative opportunities for them to try new things, particularly when they're not yet in high school, is part of that critical empowerment."

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