Program Profile: X-STEAM Gymnasium for the Mind

Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 “X-STEAM” 21st CCLC Program engages students with science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) activities. The program aims to prepare students for the rigor of high school preparatory coursework that will support their readiness for college or an innovative career in these areas. Closing the gender gap in STEM is also part of the program's goals. Serving some 400 students in second through eighth grade, X-STEAM provides three tiers of support for students: homework assistance, academic tutoring in reading and math, and hands-on STEAM activities. Visual and performing arts and social-emotional learning are also integrated into these activities.

X-STEAM students working at one of the STEAM Tables    

Two students show their work in the STEAMRoom.


The X-STEAM program offers distinct programming at different grade levels. Early elementary students work as engineers in a “STEAMroom,” where they solve problems at different stations using the RADAR strategy:

  • Research a solution to a problem,
  • Apply the results of the research,
  • Design a solution,
  • Analyze the design, and
  • Reflect and redesign.
  X-STEAM Students working with DJ equipment

The DJ STEM MasterMix Academy teaches upper elementary students engineering concepts through the creation of music. 

A science facilitator and teaching assistant are on hand to facilitate problem solving among the students.

Older elementary school students are learning about engineer through DJ STEM MasterMix Academy. This academy teaches engineering concepts through the creation of music. Students learn about science and music using the latest audio workstation technology and music instrument digital interface (MIDI) devices. X-STEAM also works closely with the Sci-Girls Program to support closing the gender gap by immersing girls in hands-on science, math, and engineering activities that apply to real-world learning experiences. Although the X-STEAM program is interested in gender equity, staff also realize that all students will benefit from the Sci-Girls curriculum and therefore offer Sci-Girls & Guys sessions after school. Finally, middle school students have the opportunity to earn digital badges to represent the different STEM skills they have mastered. True to the program’s name (X-STEAM, not just STEM), the arts are an integral part of the program. Students participate in performing arts activities, and they also take vocal and instrumental lessons through Muzicnet.

Park Forest-Chicago Heights    

The X-STEAM program collaborates with community-based organizations and school day staff to help make the most of afterschool programming.


X-STEAM project coordinator Renee Hawthorne notes that partnerships have been crucial to the program’s success. “Team work makes the dream work!” is her wisdom for grantees who want to launch STEM (or STEAM) programs at their sites. “We do not have to do it all on our own,” she says. “We work with committed partners and extraordinary organizations so we did not have to reinvent the wheel,” notes Hawthorne, listing Northern Illinois University STEM Outreach Center, University of Illinois Extension Center, Sci-Girls PBIS, and DJ STEM Master Mix Academy as partner organizations who already offer curriculum, professional development, or family engagement sessions that support diverse STEM experiences. 

The X-STEAM program also collaborates closely with the school day. Site coordinators work with principals, using student achievement data to identify students who would benefit the most from participating in the program. Academic enrichment and tutoring activities are aligned with district curriculum in reading and mathematics, and STEAM activities are aligned with what is being taught during the school day. The program also continues to help students with basic math facts with their Making Moments Matter in Math and Common Core Rigor Fluency and Fun activities.

The X-STEAM program is already proving popular among students. Hawthorne notes that at one of the sites, the participation rate among students who have registered is 99%. “Our program is designed to excite students about STEAM experiences,” says Hawthorne. “They do not have these opportunities during the school day and are excited to participate in the enriching experiences.”