Evanston’s Fifth Ward STEM Fest returned this weekend after a pandemic hiatus, bringing fun and hands-on learning to students in the Fifth Ward.

Black Men Lead member Evains Francois (left) explains the organization’s activity – balancing a toothpick on the lip of a glass using forks as counterbalances – to a second grader during STEM Fest. Credit: Photo by Trent Brown

The event, which took place at Family Focus, 2010 Dewey Ave., on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., exposed the students to activities and experiments related to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Some 75 K-5 Evanston students, attended this year’s STEM Fest, District 65 EvanSTEM Director Kirby Callam wrote in an email. He said 98% of the attendees were people of color, who are underrepresented in STEM fields. Additionally, he wrote, 62 of the 78 volunteers and educators were people of color, meaning STEM Fest reached its goal of having educators that look like the students. Although 120 students had been expected to attend, he said organizers believed several factors played in to the lower-than-expected turnout.

“Post COVID turnout, the rain, and free family events at Fleetwood and YMCA likely caused the lower [student] turnout,” Callam wrote.

Morning Mentors volunteer Adrien Deberghes (left) helps a second grader with the “elephant toothpaste” activity during STEM Fest. Credit: Photo by Trent Brown

In the building gym, volunteers from 16 Evanston and Northwestern groups staffed tables with different activities or experiments for students to complete and learn from. For example, volunteers from the Northwestern Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science showed students how to extract visible strands of DNA from crushed strawberries using dish soap, water, salt and rubbing alcohol.

Students earned a stamp for each activity they completed and could turn the stamps in for prizes at the end of STEM Fest.

Coding taught here

Upstairs, students gathered for 40-minute sessions that explained STEM topics in more depth. In one session, teenage volunteers with the Evanston Public Library explained coding using miniature robots that can read and respond to lines drawn with markers of different colors. Students moved between the longer sessions and the gymnasium at different times based on their grade level.

Northwestern-District 65 Partnership Coordinator and STEM Fest volunteer Jen Lewin said she chose to help with the event because exposing students to STEM early on encourages them to “build their STEM identity” and enable future learning – something she’s familiar with as a former middle school teacher.

“This is a very unique event where we’re really trying to provide a fun day for kids to come and do some STEM activities,” Lewin said. “We have actual scientists from Northwestern. We have people from the community, people that are doing all sorts of science and STEM activities.”

Lewin said she also had a second reason for volunteering at STEM Fest: making sure the students have fun.

First time back

“This is our first year back since the pandemic, so kids right now are just going through a period where they’re sort of struggling with mental health and trying to get used to being back in school,” she said. “Anytime we can bring joy to kids right now, that’s like my main goal.”

Digital Youth Network volunteers (from left) Ifeoluwa Dada, Viviann Lanuza and Sydney Simmons at STEM Fest. Students were able to watch two 3D printers in action as part of the organization’s display. Credit: Trent Brown photo

Fifth Ward resident Deanna Howlett brought her son, a second grader, to STEM Fest. Howlett said the event was a unique opportunity for students in the neighborhood to learn about these subjects in a familiar environment.

“When I take him to other programs like [Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development], or when I take him to Kids STEM Studio Evanston, there are very rarely opportunities that are inclusive to everyone here in Evanston,” Howlett said. “To kind of integrate these types of opportunities into something that’s already a part of their life is extremely important.”

“It’s just different when you bring it here,” she added. “It’s almost like you’re bringing it home.”

Leave a comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *