EPL receives grant for popular citywide middle school STEM challenges

Schools and Libraries

August 12, 2022

From: Evanston Public Library

EPL receives $39,241 for citywide STEM challenges for middle school students

Evanston, Ill. –  The Evanston Public Library will continue to provide expanded STEM educational opportunities for Evanston’s BIPOC middle school students thanks to a grant from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. 

Secretary of State Jessie White announced last week that the Evanston Public Library was among 30 Illinois libraries to receive a Project Next Generation grant. The $39,241 awarded to EPL will fund next year’s Code It Challenge and Film It Challenge. 

The Secretary of State’s office awards Project Next Generation grants to libraries across Illinois to provide mentors to work with middle and high school students to develop technology skills and close achievement gaps for at-risk students. Students learn to achieve success through project-based learning and gain life skills such as effective communication, goal setting and conflict resolution. 

The annual Code It Challenge, held each fall, challenges middle school students across Evanston and the D65 school district to design and code their own 8-bit arcade games while learning the basics of video game development. The games are showcased in the Code It Arcade, and students win prizes for including game elements designed to teach new concepts. In the summer, students learn video filming and editing skills in the Film It Challenge that culminates in a film festival where students see their creations on the big screen.  

“They’re great challenges because they capitalize on the video games and videos students are already interested in but really encourage them to explore what it takes to create using technology,” Innovation and Digital Learning Manager Renee Neumeier said. “We work hard to recruit students who might not otherwise be exposed to careers in tech or have access to the tools and coaching to learn.” 

The Code It and Film It Challenges are produced by the Evanston Public Library in partnership with EvanSTEM, a public-private collaboration within District 65. Partners for the challenges include Northwestern University, Family Focus, and Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.). 

The challenges expand on the math and science coursework that Evanston middle school students get in the classroom building technology and engineering skills and offering students the opportunity to explore careers they might not otherwise consider. Both the Code It and Film It Challenges are free for students and include workshops and drop-in help.

The Library also works with its partner organizations to recruit and include students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields, including girls and BIPOC students, and provides free technology loans so that students at all income levels can participate.

This the 24th year for the Project Next Generation grant program, which awards grants from the Illinois State Library using federal Library Services and Technology Act funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Grants are awarded to public libraries serving culturally diverse, low-income and underserved populations. This is the third consecutive year that EPL has been awarded a Project Next Generation grant.

For more information on the Code It Challenge, visit codeitchallenge.org, where you can also play last year’s arcade games designed by Evanston middle schoolers. For more on the Film It Challenge, visit filmitchallenge.org. You can learn more about events and programs, homework help, reading recommendations and much more for teens at epl.org

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