Citizen Schools

Chasing the “WOW!” With Citizen Schools and EPA Science

By Andrew Murray

Students share their final presentations.

Students share their final presentations.

When I was first asked to lead an after school Citizen Schools apprenticeship, I was fairly apprehensive. Sure, I had taught plenty of episodic classroom presentations and felt comfortable around kids, but committing to teach the same 20 students every week? It was a bit intimidating at first, especially since I’ve never been trained as a teacher and just graduated from college myself.

I was quickly reassured that Citizen Schools is all about having non-teachers teaching; thus the reason it’s called “Citizen” Schools. Volunteer “Citizen Teachers” teach after school hands-on apprenticeships on topics from their careers and expertise. The apprenticeships are taught for 90 minutes, once a week, for 10 weeks, with a final showcase at the end of the semester. The Citizen Schools program targets low-income middle schools to close the “opportunity gap” through academic enrichment and career insight. EPA has been participating in the Durham, NC Citizen Schools program for seven years, at both Neal Middle School and Lowe’s Grove Middle School.

Last fall, I was lucky enough to join a team of veteran EPA employees teaching at Lowe’s Grove. Our apprenticeship was called “Power Play,” which focused on studying various energy generation methods, and their relations to pollution and climate change.

Once we decided on what we were going to teach, we pitched our apprenticeship at the Citizen School Apprenticeship Fair. The students then get the opportunity to sign up for the apprenticeships that interest them. I watched the veterans pitch the apprenticeship a couple of times, and then took my first swing at it. After seeing the kids get excited, my own excitement and confidence grew and, suddenly, I was hooked.

Over the following ten weeks, we would meet with the students every Wednesday after school and teach them about energy and the environment. We built solar ovens, wind turbines, and water wheels, and learned about energy consumption and modeling through an Energy Generation board game developed by EPA colleagues.

"GENERATE!" board game developed by EPA researchers.

“Generate,” a board game developed by EPA researchers.

Every week was mentally challenging, but extremely rewarding. It all lead up to the final presentations – the WOW! event where the students had the chance to “teach back” to the public, their teachers, and their families. For me, the WOW! was what made teaching the apprenticeship addicting. After seeing what the students took away and how excited they were to present it and teach it to the public, I realized what a difference the citizen teachers make in the lives of these students.

The new semester of Citizen School is about to start, and I will be teaching with the same team again at Lowe’s Grove. We will be leading an apprenticeship on “Making Sense of Air Quality,” while another team leads an apprenticeship at Neal on “Environmental Sensing.” I’m so excited to get back in the classroom to make a difference in the lives of another class of up-and-coming environmental experts!

About the Author: Andrew Murray is a Student Services Contractor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 2009, and a received B.S. in Environmental Science from NC State University in 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Watts Up With School Energy?

About the author: Kelly Leovic manages EPA’s Environmental and Community Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park. Kelly has worked at EPA for 21 years and has three children, one of whom needs regular reminders to “turn the lights off when you leave the room.”

“Raise your hand if you recycle,” I said to 15 students at Lowes Grove Middle School in Durham, NC. It was my first apprenticeship class at Citizen Schools, a national program that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for low-income children.

The goal of my 10-week Environmental Awareness Apprenticeship was to guide the students in developing an environmental project. No hands were raised in response to my recycling question, so I launched into my “Trash Talk” lesson which, in addition to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, includes a trash sort activity. The students sorted through bags of “trash” to discover what could be reused, composted, or recycled. They quickly applied their new knowledge of the three R’s and were on their way to environmental awareness.

As the apprenticeship progressed, we learned about water pollution, conservation, and energy. (A few students even admitted taking over 1 hour showers, so we had a little talk about that one!) One day we used Watts meters to measure and compare the energy use of regular light bulbs and compact fluorescents. Equating energy use to money piqued their interest, and the students decided to do their project on measuring the energy use of various school equipment.

image of student sitting at his desk with a calculatorMy “apprentices” used a Watts meter to measure computers, printers, microwaves, pencil sharpeners, and projectors during use and when they were turned off but plugged in. Next, the students calculated the estimated annual cost of using the equipment based on 9.86 cents per Kilowatt/hour and multiplied this by the number of each and estimated time used.
What suprised us the most was that, based on estimated usage time, the 37 printers at the school actually use more energy when they are plugged in but turned off ($117 annually) than when they are in use ($75 annually). This is because some appliances, e.g., think of a microwave clock, still consume energy just by being plugged in.

I truly enjoyed teaching these kids because they didn’t begin with much environmental knowledge, so I felt I could make a difference in their behaviors and choices. Being a Citizen Teacher also gave me the opportunity to work with the same group of students throughout the semester and to get to know them individually. One of the highlights for the students was their field trip to our EPA Building where they could see EPA’s energy conservation efforts in practice.

In addition to learning about ways to conserve energy at school, the students had an opportunity to “teach” their Principal about what they learned, presenting their results and recommendations for school energy savings at a staff meeting. This is one visit to the Principal’s office that I can feel good about!

Epilogue: On December 9, the students presented their recommendations to over 200 attendees at the Citizen Schools final program. The Principal, the Superintendent of Schools, and a State Senator were there and are excited about implementing the energy saving tips from our middle school citizens.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.