NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — On Thursday, Feb. 18, State Farm awarded a $20,000 grant to a local children’s museum to help continue an award-winning after-school partnership.

That partnership, consisting of the Children’s Discovery Museum, Illinois State University, and UNITY Community Center, led to the creation of the after-school program. Starting its 9th year, the program is called the Innovation Institute Program (IIP) and aims to continue education for at-risk youth in the community.

The goals of the program include reinforcing after-school and summer activities currently available at the center with a curriculum of positive learning experience focused on STEAM-related content. The program is available to students in kindergarten through college.

“We are so thankful that State Farm has chosen to continue its support of our award-winning program with this grant. We love visiting UNITY each week and building strong bonds with the students. It is so rewarding to see how the kids grow throughout the year and how excited they are to transition through different levels of the program,” said Children’s Discovery Museum School Programs & Outreach Educator Jennifer Raisbeck. “We know this year will continue to bring us challenges, but we know how important it is to continue this relationship with our students.”

During the annual Illinois Association of Museum’s conference, the IIP won Illinois’s top honor for Best Practices in Educational Programs.

“This program has become a mainstay at UNITY Community Center, and each year we see greater involvement from the students as they have become invested in their own learning. The students have built a relationship with our instructors and look forward to each week’s programming.  Thanks to State Farm we are able to continue to build those relationships,” said Children’s Discovery Museum Education Manager Rachel Carpenter. “The real success of this program has been watching youth participants grow into the teen program where they then graduate and take those skills into their communities as leaders. Continuing this program means a great deal to the students’ career opportunities as they graduate.”

Museum representatives said early exposure and engagement in science and mathematics through programs like this one is important preparation for young people to build a sense of competency and interest in pursuing higher education and careers related to STEAM.