Students are learning in a brand new space at Serena Hills Elementary School with the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Lab opened for instruction since the beginning of this school year.
Made possible by a donation of more than $275,000 from Serena Hills alum Allan DiCastro, the lab features a bay of computers that students use for technology-based learning like programming and animation, a 3D printer, a TV and a classroom pet — a bearded dragon named Stitch.
The lab space, which was constructed over summer 2018 and completed in August, replaced the school’s library; a small section of the learning center now holds all the books from the library and has different seating options for students to read.
The east side of the lab features private classrooms, one in which Serena Hills staff member Janet Burke teaches her ACE (Accelerate, Challenge and Enrich) classes.
STEAM classes are open to all students and attended weekly by each class, with different grade levels using various elements of the lab based on curriculum.
An official ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for the lab took place Oct. 4 and was attended by about 50 community members and Flossmoor District 161 officials.
District 161 Superintendent Dana Smith took a moment during the Oct. 9 school board meeting to reiterate his thanks to DiCastro for his “incredible donation.”
“His generosity has allowed us to take a major step forward, and our students are experiencing learning on a whole new level,” Smith said.
DiCastro said in a statement that his donation was his way of giving back to a school and community that supported him during his formative years.
“As a kid, I always felt like I was truly seen at Serena Hills, like I could be myself,” he said in the statement. “In challenged neighborhoods, I feel that is not always the case, so I want those kids to know that I see them and that they are seen.”
DiCastro attended Serena Hills from 1967 to 1976 and is now co-founder and executive director of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Art + Practice. He previously made a $25,000 donation to District 161 for Blessings in a Backpack.
Serena Hills Principal Shari Demitrowicz said in a statement that her school is “honored to be the recipients of this extraordinary donation.”
“Mr. DiCastro’s generous gift has allowed our Serena Hills students and 161 families to become 21st century thinkers, inventors and future leaders,” she said in the statement.