Forest Park’s public elementary schools are making a big bet on STEAM education. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, blended in a collaborative teaching and learning style.

The district will spend nearly $2 million to build out STEAM labs at two of its schools. With support from the school board, the district plans to have the new spaces up and in operation by the start of the 2023-24 school year. The classrooms will be constructed on currently underutilized space at the Beloit Avenue campus shared by Field Stevenson Intermediate School and Forest Park Middle School.

This is a pricey and ambitious project but, in our view, a necessary investment in new learning in a district struggling to attract students and posting uninspiring test scores. The goal, Supt. Elizabeth Alvarez has said, is to build a STEAM lab in each school eventually.

The concept integrates learning across subjects, and through projects by moving students into group learning settings. The facilities being built will allow for experiments, design work and other high-tech upgrades. 

The district has also budgeted to make teaching hires specific to the labs they are building. This is recognition that new teaching approaches will need an infusion of teaching talent and, we expect, spur current faculty to greater innovation.

This major effort is a signature step by Supt. Alvarez to put her mark on this district. It is bold and forward-looking. We are confident she will direct every resource of energy and focus on this investment in our children.

Growing library leadership

It is only good news when a person who began their career in an organization and then went on to grow in other, larger work environments, chooses to return as the leader of the entity that launched them.

That’s the situation at the Forest Park Public Library where Vicki Rakowski was just hired as the library’s new director. She starts work in January. She began her career at the Forest Park library in youth services 14 years ago.

Library trustees used words such as “empathy” and “self-aware” to describe Rakowski and their reasons for this hire. In a time when libraries are remaking themselves as core community institutions, offering leadership and welcome far beyond simply being lending libraries, we’re interested in the direction Rakowski takes the library. It is already a progressive and community-centric library. It does not need reinvention but nurturing and growth.

With two phases of renovations just completed, Rakowski and her strong staff can focus on making real the library’s aspirations of inclusion and connection more genuine and vital.