Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) education curricular programs are in their first year in District 15, and are meant to give students a glimpse of future opportunities in manufacturing, engineering and technology.
Students are involved in hands-on activities that show math and science in a different light.
"The kids don't necessarily realize the skills they actually develop, these classes also serve to give many of our students increased confidence and self-esteem by seeing their work provide results," said Sharon Lennstrom, a STEM teacher at Plum Grove Junior High School.
Students in grades 7 and 8 throughout District 15 use 3D professional engineering software, and work part of the class period at computer labs until they put their plans into action at work stations.
Currently, students have created Skimmers, handmade vehicles they continually test and reevaluate to travel distances.
"They examine the weight and trouble shoot dynamics and measurements to achieve the most aerodynamic model," said Lennstrom.
Class participants are highly engaged in not only the conceptual work they do, but also putting their work into action in the real world.
"It's been very fun, I like being able to design and create and see it actually work the way I planned it to on the computer," said Ally Aichinger, an 8th grader at Plum Grove.
STEM classes also give the students a chance to think about future careers.
"When I started in this class, I knew I wanted to work in medicine, but now I want to become a medical engineer and work to find cures for diseases," said Katie Bondi, also and 8th grader at Plum Grove. "This class helped me see I can do that."
"These classes are meant to guide our children into careers they may not have otherwise considered, many of our manufacturing jobs are going overseas, and part of the intent is to introduce these opportunities for kids to take advantage of nationwide," said James Garwood, deputy superintendent for District 15.
In addition to Design and Modeling, the curriculum also offers Automation and Robotics instuction.
"The kids design a robot that will complete certain tasks, by initially programming through the computer and then building it based on that design," Garwood said.
The initial cost to begin the STEM programs is roughly $200,000, but District 15 was able to cover 85 percent with grants and creativity by district employees.
The maintenance crews, for example, built the labs instead of outsourcing that cost, and teachers and administrators sought all funding possible throught a variety of grants to minimize the overall price tag.
STEM students at District 15 recently saw their efforts and planning affect the district as a whole.
"Students submitted suggestions for news desks for the junior highs, after researching and finding that our current desks are not meant for middle school students, but rather elementary students," said Kerry Wilson, Plum Grove Junior High principal.
The district is now reevaluating desks used throughout the district based on feedback from STEM students.
"They felt they were heard and that their ideas were actually worth something," Wilson said.
For more information on STEM programs in Illinois, click here.