NIU today | NIU’s Barb City STEAM team offers a unique after-school experience for middle school students

Just over a year ago, the Barb City STEAM Team program was founded by NIU STEAMin the Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development Division. The premise was simple: offer a free after-school program on the campus of Northern Illinois University designed primarily for college students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The results so far have been transformative: students who might not otherwise think of college feel comfortable at NIU. They interact with staff, faculty and student mentors. They bowl in the Huskie Den, explore the Founders Memorial Library, play handball on the courts at Anderson Hall, and experiment with recipes in the Health and Human Sciences Food Lab at Wirtz Hall. In the process, they develop confidence, problem-solving skills, teamwork, creativity, and critical thinking. Anyway, they’re building the 21st Century skills so elusive and difficult to teach, yet so crucial to academic and career success.

Barb City students took a break from having fun outdoors on the NIU campus.

In the words of Debbie Kerman, Deputy Principal of NIU STEAM, “These students are Huskies when they’re here on campus. I am blown away by the opportunities they have because the program is at NIU.

According to Stephanie Dietrich, director of Barb City’s STEAM team, this location sets the program apart from the other 21st Century Learning Centers, which traditionally take place in the regular school of K-12 students.

“One of our goals is to help students see that college is a viable outcome for them – to imagine themselves here at NIU or at another university – and there is no better way to doing it than having them here on campus, Monday through Friday, whenever school is in session,” Dietrich says.

Every day after school, staff from Barb City’s STEAM team provide transportation from DeKalb’s Huntley and Clinton Rosette Middle Schools for the current 37 students. When students arrive, they meet in NIU STEAM classrooms at Swen Parson Hall and have time to relax, play games, make art, grab a snack, or get some info. homework help or tutoring as needed. Dietrich, who has a background in social work and education, says that’s when a lot of the relationship building and social-emotional learning takes place.

“We talk to students about their day, what happened at school, and maybe different ways to handle situations that arise at school,” Dietrich says.

Then, for the next part of the program, students head to their chosen STEAM classes for the month, which offer hands-on science, technology, engineering, art and math projects – including the popular FoodMASTER class, which uses food to teach applied math and science concepts. On the first release days, which take place about twice a month, students can choose from an assortment of clubs, including a book club, capoeira club, dance club, and even a new dungeons and dragons club. Bi-weekly evening or weekend activities welcome families of students to meet NIU faculty and learn about fun topics like space exploration or how geography and culture affect food.

“Our program is for the whole family and the whole child,” says Dietrich. “That’s why activities such as cooking classes, nutrition and sport are so central to our approach. We have a nutritionist on our team, and she talks a lot about how to make healthy choices for yourself, and how what you put in your body affects your whole day and your ability to learn to your full potential. .

Barb City’s STEAM team relies on partnerships with NIU departments, as well as community groups. Read on to find out how some of these partnerships enable engaged learning opportunities.

Having fun with food

Barb City students made chocolate covered ghosts as part of their microwave science unit.

Barb City students can choose which classes they take — and it’s no surprise to NIU STEAM educator and nutritionist Kelly Furr that the cooking class is always a favorite. Working in the food labs of the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences, students learn math, science, and nutrition — and learn new skills and recipes to try at home.

Furr bases lessons on the FoodMASTER curriculum developed by NIU Professor of Interdisciplinary Health Professions Melani Duffrin, which aims to bring math and science learning to life through food. Barb City students learned the metrics by making no-bake energy bites. They learned to prepare simple and delicious recipes using the produce they helped grow with DeKalb County Community Gardens. And recently they completed a unit on the science of microwaves, learning how microwaves work, why they can cook food so quickly, and how to use them safely. Students were able to experiment with hands-on recipes for foods such as “Mugritos”, breakfast burritos in a cup.

“Our only rule is that everyone must try at least one bite!” Furr said. “Students are often surprised at how much they like new foods.”

“We are pleased to support the program and welcome children from the community to the Wirtz Hall Food Lab,” said Beverly Henry, Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “We love all the different ways kids can learn about nutrition from an early age, and this program gives kids a fun opportunity to learn and do.”

look at this NIU STEAM blog post for some of the kids’ favorite recipes.

Get into the team spirit

Another popular Barb City activity is STEAM sports. “Playing sports improves students’ moods, helps them become more engaged and sets the stage for success,” says Dietrich. Paul Wright, professor of kinesiology and physical education at NIU, and his students regularly meet with middle schoolers in Anderson Hall gymnasiums to teach team sports. Currently, the focus is on handball, which students have chosen from a variety of options. Wright students apply the sports education model, which means Barb City kids also learn to coach, lead warm-ups, document practices, and take on other leadership roles.

“A lot of times the way physical education has introduced sport hasn’t been very authentic,” says Wright. “You just teach some isolated skills, you do exercises, and then in the last two days of the unit the kids can actually play a game. Then you move on.

Sports education goes beyond that, he says. The developers of this model wanted a way to “provide a more authentic sport experience in physical education” where students who might not participate in competitive sports gain a sense of belonging to a team, the concept of membership in a team and responsibility for keeping records as well as pre-season, regular season and playoff play and run tournaments.

“As part of this, we also do a lot of empowerment-based activities where kids take on different roles,” says Wright. “One will be in charge of leading the warm-ups. One will be the journalist in charge of taking photos and writing a short article. »

Learn more about the STEAM Sports experience in this story from the NIU College of Education.

Capoeira club

Caption: Barb City students visit the NIU Music School building to learn capoeira

On half days, students choose a club to attend – and Capoeira is a popular choice! Gregory Beyer, Director of Percussion Studies at NIU, and Oliver Camacho, President of the NIU Capoeira Club, shared their time and talents to introduce students to this Afro-Brazilian art form which combines dance, martial arts and percussion.

For NIU students and staff, there are many ways to get involved with the Barb City program. If you are interested in mentoring, tutoring, or teaching a session in your area of ​​expertise, please contact Stephanie Dietrich at