Air Force Academy High School Partnership

A unique Museum–School partnership egaging CPS students and teachers in STEM opportunities.

Duration of Project: August 2009 – October 2013
Organization: Adler Planetarium, Chicago
Audience: Nearly 400 HS students from freshman to senior year, more than a dozen teaching and administrative staff members, as well as museum staff and STEM professional mentors.

Project Description

In December 2009, the Adler Planetarium launched a five-year pilot of the Air Force Academy High School Aerospace Education Partnership (Adler/AFAHS Partnership). The intent was to have a profound impact on AFAHS students, on the school culture and on the museum’s teen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

The Adler/AFAHS Partnership was conceived as a STEM pipeline program, intended to move students along interest-driven pathways towards future careers as STEM professionals. The result was a diverse suite of programs, which serve different segments of the AFAHS population according to their needs and readiness.

  • To reinforce positive attitudes toward museums and STEM subjects in all programs;
  • To build studentsʼ STEM related skills and content knowledge in astronomy, and aerospace in all programs;
  • To provide students with essential life skills such as public speaking, personal confidence, punctuality, and professional appearance through volunteer and internship opportunities, as preparation for success in college and future careers.
  • To help students gain an understanding of the workplace environment and foster job skills through an extensive, multi-faceted internship program; To engender a sense of personal belonging as part of the Adler Planetarium community and the professional STEM community;
  • To develop comfort and confidence in peer mentoring by establishing professional mentoring relationships;

The Adler/AFAHS Partnership was co-designed alongside AFAHS faculty and staff, engaging them closely in the work both at school and in the museum. Teachers received professional development, access to museum resources, and both classroom and extracurricular support. In return, they helped to shape programs and curriculum. School administrators, including the school principal, were regularly consulted, provided guidance and support, and invited to fully participate in the work.

Over five years, the program directly engaged over a half-dozen Adler team members in this work, and indirectly impacted museum staff from around the entire building. Programs developed for the Adler/AFAHS partnership became the foundation of the Adler’s Teen Programs, Adler Teens, and the STEM Mentor volunteer program.

User-Centered Methodology

In the first year of the Adler/AFAHS Partnership, Adler staff, AFAHS staff, and AFAHS students first became acquainted. AFAHS was a new school that had accepted it’s first class of freshman. The focus of that year was to build trust and a shared understanding of expectations, establish foundational programs and activities, and collect formative feedback on expectations and initial experiences for program model adjustments and next-step design.

Subsequent years saw significant changes to the program model and portfolio, or more moderate, iterative adjustments to existing programming depending on the evolving needs of the program, these included:

  • Increasing or decreasing the amount of staff time spent at AFAHS as a classroom teacher, enrichment provider, or in teacher professional development.
  • Adjusted student support services at the Adler to better address the schoolʼs social, emotional, and educational needs.
  • Modifying evaluation plans to include appropriate instruments;
  • Adding programs to fill gaps in the STEM pipeline program for all grades and interest-levels;
  • Adding internship or volunteer positions for students and mentors;

By the end of three years, initial evaluation trends demonstrated improvement in measured student outcomes with increased student engagement at the museum. Program evaluation, feedback from participants, and internal reflections between staff and students was used to identify programs that were most and least effective in achieving the programʼs overarching partnership goals.

These included direct and indirect assessments of student performance (artifacts, attendance, participation, badges, appraisals, etc.), regular student and teacher feedback surveys, anonymized and randomized interviews, and anecdotal evidence. In addition to user experience data collection, the Adler/AFAHS Partnership programs also directly engaged participant voice in both the program experiences and in the program design. For example, seniors at AFAHS were invited to join an Adler Youth Leadership Council, where teens worked as conduits between their peers and museum staff.

Evaluation and assessment continued to demonstrate positive outcomes into the fourth and fifth years of the program during which critical issues of scale and sustainability were being addressed. Through careful integration with fundamental museum functions and prioritieis (logistical, programmatic, and fundraising), streamlining and refining program delivery, and addressing relevance to school-side, classroom priorities, the Adler/AFAHS Partnership was able to achieve a highly-integrated approach for sustainability.

Evaluation data for the AFAHS Partnership program broadly revealed several key trends:


  • Students at all levels of engagement, from freshman field trips to summer internships reported a positive learning experience and interest in the programs.
  • Students with increasing levels of engagement reported increasingly positive attitudes towards museums and STEM career possibilities.
  • Students with increasing levels of engagement with the museum started to visit the museum independently with family and friends.
  • Seniors reported that the relationship between their school and the Adler had a direct, beneficial impact on their and their peersʼ attitudes towards museums and STEM.


  • STEM teachers felt supported by the Adler Partnership and meaningfully engaged in Adler student activities while developing as professionals.
  • STEM teachers were inspired to access the museum independently, in most cases for the first time in their lives.
  • STEM teachers reported that Adler student programs were meaningful in the development of their studentsʼ academic and social-emotional goals.
  • STEM teachers reported that volunteering and internship opportunities were the most effective in the development of their studentsʼ academic and social-emotional goals.

Related Evidence & Artifacts

The Adler/AFAHS Partnership Logic Model


Sample Data

A sample of quantitative (Likert) evaluation data collected and referred to above can be seen in the visual representations below:

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Constructing the Partnership

A slideshow presentation that details the growth of the Adler/AFAHS Partnership can be seen below: