Made Possible Through Outstanding Leadership
Berwyn, Illinois is located just outside of Chicago and is home to Berwyn North School District 98, which comprises three elementary schools and one middle school.The district has recently stepped up their STEM programming and they are teaching their young students things like engineering design, coding, drone piloting, and animation.
I had the pleasure of talking to the district’s Director of Instructional Technology, Gary Evashenk, who filled me in on all of the new and upcoming developments in STEAM at Berwyn. With background as a technology teacher and coach, along with experience in the world of corporate technology, Evashenk has stepped into this role seamlessly with an aim to give Berwyn Students an opportunity to take control of their learning experiences and futures.
The district is looking to step away from the traditional lecture environment and into an experiential, collaborative, hands-on environment. They want their students to feel as though they are in control of their education and can be positive proponents of their own learning. They have found that STEAM is a wonderful way to facilitate this.
The district’s success is widely due to the hard work and dedication of its leaders and administrators. There has been district wide support for incorporating STEAM education at Berwyn. Berwyn North School District Board of Education has been incredibly influential in helping schools secure resources. Dr. Michelle Smith, Superintendent of Berwyn North School District, has been a bold, loyal, and passionate leader and has played a huge role in the success of Berwyn’s STEAM initiatives.
STEAM Happenings at Berwyn
In their first year beginning the STEM initiative and working with Woz ED, Berwyn added a STEAM Lab at two of their four schools. They have since added another lab at Prairie Oak Elementary. These labs are specifically designed to inspire creativity, inspiration, and stimulation in children’s minds using certain color schemes, room arrangements, and stations. Here children are given lessons in animation, AR/VR, coding, drones, engineering design, and robotics using Woz Ed Kits and supplemental materials.
Berwyn has a unique approach to implementing the Woz Ed Curriculum. Each grade level is assigned two pathways that will be taught during the school year. This way, students are exposed to all of the pathways by the time they are done with fifth grade and are ready to delve deeper at the middle school level. Mr. Evashenk also told me about some of Berwyn’s supplemental STEM resources. He is a big fan of the way Woz ED can be paired with other resources, taught on its own, or forged with other subject material. This makes it easier to create a streamlined curriculum.
The Outcomes of STEM Education
Gary Evashenk mentioned that many of the current STEAM teachers, including himself, had previously transitioned from the classroom to coaching roles before the STEAM program was introduced. When the district decided to establish a STEAM program, there was a demand for technology teachers, and several individuals who had previously served as technology coaches were asked to return to classroom teaching positions. Despite being nervous to transition back into the classroom, these teachers have wholeheartedly embraced the program. They take time to learn the material and create engaging lesson plans for their students with Woz ED.
Evashenk shares that, more than anything, the creation of Berwyn’s STEAM Program has allowed students to think creatively, to collaborate, to ask hard questions, and to ultimately take control of their learning experiences. In Berwyn district, students are assigned daily roles in their classrooms and are encouraged to set daily goals for themselves, fostering a greater sense of responsibility and engagement.
Berwyn’s student body is over 80% low-income, with approximately 90% belonging to minority groups. Evashenk has been amazed by the access students at Berwyn have to state of the art technology and educational resources. He tells me that even some of the more affluent, private schools in surrounding areas do not have this type of technology. He is proud of Berwyn for reaching its goal of giving students the opportunity, who may otherwise not have, to use this technology daily.
What’s Next for Berwyn North School District 98?
For Berwyn district, reading comprehension and math are at the forefront of their goals for improving student achievement. Woz ED and supplemental STEM resources are one piece of the puzzle when it comes to building a strong foundation for math, science, and reading comprehension. One of Berwyn’s goals is to align the Woz ED curriculum with these standards so that it can become a larger component of literacy and mathematics.
Additionally, teachers in Berwyn are setting ambitious goals for themselves. Mr. Evashenk mentioned the Danielson Framework, a comprehensive framework for excellent teaching. This framework encompasses various components, including applying content knowledge, valuing students, establishing instructional objectives, efficient resource utilization, coherent instructional planning, and assessment design and analysis. Teachers at Berwyn are constantly striving to include all of these elements within the classroom, which is no easy task.
The district is also looking to organize more community STEAM nights. Once a month, students will showcase their school work and STEAM projects to their parents and the Berwyn community. Evashenk says they hope to make this a Berwyn tradition for years to come.
Berwyn is BIG on career development. At Lincoln Middle School, they recently installed a state of the art culinary center, where students interested in culinary can take courses and learn what it’s like to work in the kitchen. Additionally, the school has created a screen printing shop just below the kitchen for students to learn how to design and print materials.
The state of Illinois recently passed an act, SB1830, that requires each middle school to have a financial literacy program in place. Gary Evashenk and I discussed the significance of exposing children to these concepts at a young age, equipping them not only for successful careers, but also for managing their daily lives effectively.
Evashenk highlighted the contrast between his own upbringing and the educational opportunities available today. He mentioned that his parents had access to home economics classes, courses on financial management, tax preparation, home buying, and more. However, when he was in school, these opportunities were lacking. He expressed his satisfaction with the resurgence of focus on post-schooling preparedness, remarking,
“Everything is coming full circle in that regard. We kind of let that emphasis on readiness for life after school slip for a little while, and I’m glad it’s now back on track.”
In It For Everyone
When it comes to education, it is important to have every student’s best interest at heart. When deciding what resources to buy, programs to implement, and what teachers to hire, you must remember each student in the process. Berwyn North District 98 operates by this idea.
Mr. Evashenk tells me that he is glad to play a hand in providing students educational resources and opportunities that will help move them forward. He feels fortunate to have a driven, hardworking, student-oriented team surrounding him each day at Berwyn. From the District School Board, to Superintendent Dr. Micelle Smith, to curriculum builders, to teachers, and everyone in between, this is a team that is 100% in it with each student’s best interest at heart.