STEM-focused Engineering for Kids opens in Aurora facility
By David Sharos For Sun-Times Media July 30, 2013 5:26PM
Engineering for Kids recently hosted a Bottle Rockets Lesson in the Apprentice Aerospace Engineering program. This was the design and construction phase. | Submitted
Updated: September 1, 2013 6:09AM
While Chris LeBreck, 51, of Naperville, thought his Airtastic Play Land in Aurora was a fun place to be, he also wanted the 17,500-square-foot facility to serve a higher purpose.
That’s exactly why he opened Engineering for Kids within the facility. He hopes to provide learning opportunities in STEM education.
STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics education — has become a focus in schools today, as educators try to bridge the gap of learning in these fields that students most likely will need to compete in global markets in the future.
It will be the first franchise of the Fredericksburg, Va., company here in Illinois. The Aurora branch opened July 8 and is offering five-day and one-day camps for kids ages 4 to 14.
“We are focusing on educational components that include chemical, aerospace, civil and industrial engineering that will help develop math and science skills, which are part of the STEM initiatives,” LeBreck said.
“We currently have four staff members with either teaching or engineering backgrounds that are heading up the camps.”
LeBreck said Engineering for Kids is a logical extension of his play facility, which features 10 gigantic inflatable play structures that allow kids to climb, jump and bounce around in a safe, climate-controlled environment.
LeBreck said he and his partners have been looking for the past several years to add a program to their facility, which opened about five years ago. An email led him to a “discovery” day last December of the Engineering for Kids franchise, and on April 30, they closed the deal.
LeBreck said he holds the rights for franchises in Aurora, Naperville, Bolingbrook, Montgomery, Wheaton, Oswego and Plainfield.
“The plan eventually is to have a least one facility in all of those places, and we’re looking to work with the local schools once classes resume in the fall,” he said.
One example of a STEM activity this summer has been an aerospace unit where kids of all ages have watched a video and later designed a rocket, followed by an outdoor test flight.
“All of the lessons are age appropriate, and we have junior engineers, which are kids ages 4 to 6, as well as apprentice engineers ages 7 to 11, and master engineers at 12 to 14 years of age,” LeBreck said. “Kids were asked to design rockets, put fins on them, and power them, hopefully making them fly straight. The idea is to develop, test and then improve their design.”
Mike Cavanaugh, director of marketing for Engineering for Kids, said that LeBreck “is well connected with the schools in the area” and that the western suburbs are the perfect place to launch the Illinois market for the company that opened in 2009 and has 60 local and worldwide sites.
“When Chris contacted us last year, we knew he already had a lot of contacts with local teachers, administrators and substitutes, and he was also active in the community with his existing Airtastic Play Land facility,” Cavanaugh said.
“For us, this was a perfect fit. We know the people in Aurora and Naperville are interested in high-quality education, and we have a good feeling about the future of this program.”