Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash

By Allison Matyus

A decade ago, STEM programs weren’t being taught in schools, but in 2017, it’s more common to see these types of programs that focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics pop up into students’ curriculums.

However, not all schools have equal access to this in-demand learning, but Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts is bringing this type of education to a broad range of students on the South Side of Chicago.

Coding 101

Principal Beulah McLoyd said the first taste students got of this new and exciting hands-on learning experience was through Entrepreneurial Coding for a Cause last spring, and the program just recently started back up this month.

“Last year we partnered with 1871, and Howard Tullman, the CEO, came out for about eight weeks and taught our students about entrepreneurial principals,” McLoyd said. “Now, we are partnering with Neal Sales-Griffin from CodeNow, and he’s going to teach them how to code.”

Every Monday from now through December, 20 sophomore students will have the opportunity to learn coding, but McLoyd says it’s not just for the sake of coding.

“They are going to identify a problem in the community and then from that, they will then move into figuring out what kind of app or platform can be designed to specifically address this issue that they have identified,” she said.

In conjunction to this coding program, students learned about entrepreneurship skills by working with Tullman and the text he wrote specifically for Dyett students and this program. Students were able to explore the five principles of entrepreneurship, which Tullman identified as passion, preparation, perspiration, perseverance, and principles.

It’s no surprise that this kind of learning has sparked students’ interests.

“One young man said to me that he never thought he could be a business owner prior to engaging in the program, and now, his world and horizons have broadened because now he knows he has the ability to own his own business,” McLoyd said.

This kind of learning—project-based learning—is becoming more prominent in schools as technology becomes more a part of our everyday lives.

“Students are engaged and they are learning, they don’t even realize they are learning sometimes because they are so immersed in the content and are applying it to real world situations,” McLoyd said.

STEM Starts Young

Dyett’s focus on engaging students starts even before they become high schoolers. Through the Dyett Innovation Hub, middle school students from area feeder schools get to experience STEM learning at a much younger age than ever before. The Hub is a myriad of programs that pairs students and their parents to new learning experiences through Parent University.

Kisalan Glover, the senior campus manager for Parent University at Dyett, said that they were able to bring in over 600 students during the 2016-17 school year to use Dyett’s Robotics Lab as part of the “Field Trip Experience” that Parent University has created.

“Students come in and they put on goggles and learn how to construct a robot or how to create a compound by using science technology engineering and math,” he said.

Glover said in this “Field Trip Experience” both kids and their parents were working together side by side in these STEM fields, creating and learning at the same time. He said the fusion of fun and learning is something that stays with the kids longer than textbooks.

STEM focuses the old school with the new school: a lot of it is computer-generated and focused, but then there’s still this certain component where you have to have a hands on approach and be involved,” Glover said.

These field trips are continuing in the 2017-18 school year, and both Glover and McLoyd hope to see innovative programs that has come out of Dyett expand to reach even more Chicago Public Schools students.

I think this is the highest form of education, and I’m just excited to be able to bring this to students on the South Side of Chicago,” McLoyd said. “These are the skills that are essential for students in the 21st century, and I think this type of learning is where we should be headed.”