The first AmeriCorps week story comes from Energy Corps member Allison Elick, who is serving at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA.
One of the Erie community projects I have been involved in is the Energy and Education program with the Erie School District. My role in this program is to be a resource for children and teachers during the program. I go in and teach lessons in the classroom and I also assist in helping the classes complete their “energy audits” of the school. I also work behind the scenes, grading all of the pre and post tests from the 17 schools in the program and compiling the data into spread sheets.
This program is funded through a grant received last year and it is made up of a science based curriculum and a number of activities and experiments for children from 5th grade to high school. During phase one of the curriculum students learn about energy use; where our energy comes from, and why relying on fossil fuels for energy is harmful to our environment. We also teach them the basics of alternative energy sources that can be used to harness energy and won’t pollute our atmosphere. The hope of the program is to incorporate these lessons into regular science learning so that these ideas of conserving energy become second nature to the classes.
One of my favorite activities we do with the kids is a cookie mining experiment where the kids get two chocolate chip cookies (one is hard and one is soft). With toothpicks they try to “mine” the chips out of the cookies while trying to keep the cookie intact. After they take all the chips out their job is to put the cookie back together just the way it was before we had them mine it. The kids begin to learn that the cookie doesn’t always look the way it did when they started. We relate this back to land reclamation after mining for coal. We really want the kids to see that when we tear up the land, we are tearing up habitats of plants and animals, displacing them from their homes.
During phase two of the program we have each school conduct an energy assessment of their building. They look at internal and external lighting, appliances, electronics, electric meter and gas data. It’s a fairly comprehensive process and it is always surprising how much information the classes are able to come up with. Some of the students are assigned to light measurement teams and their task is to go from classroom to classroom and hall to hall counting the number of lights and measuring their wattage. Another team actually goes around with light meters and calculates the number of foot candles generated by each room. Other teams do research on appliance and electronic use, both from a behavioral and energy standpoint. The last team assesses the data from energy star portfolio and creates graphs in excel showing electric and gas usage over a 12 month period. After they have collected all their data, they create a power point to present to staff and faculty within the building. They make recommendations for change and urge the teachers to help them become more energy efficient.
In all cases where I have gone into the classes to offer my help, the children have been so enthusiastic about what they are learning. I recently worked with a group from Johanna Connell Elementary through the process of performing an energy assessment of their school. The class was so ecstatic about presenting their findings to the building. We must have practiced their presentation five times in a row because they wanted to get it just right. This program has done so much for the Erie School District because it has opened up an entirely new and fresh curriculum of engaged learning for these children.
Allison Elick grew up in Lancaster, Ohio and is excited to be a new member of the Pennsylvania Energy Corps. She graduated from Allegheny College in May of 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies. During her time at Allegheny she played tennis, and traveled to Northern Europe for with a sustainability program. During her time with Energy Corps, Allison hopes to reach out to children and adults and help them understand how to work as a community to become more sustainable and responsible for present and future generations. She enjoys playing tennis, mountain biking, fishing and cooking. After Energy Corps Allison hopes to get a job with a non-profit organization or a college where she can work to create sustainable development and educate others.