Lowes Grove Middle School

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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The Village Green Project: An Opportunity for STEM Enrichment (without the Lab Coat)

By Kelly Leovic

FinalLogo_KLThankfully, all hands in the classroom eagerly shot up when I said, “Raise your hand if you are a human.”  I began by explaining to the fifth graders that our job at EPA is to protect human heath and the environment. I then asked if they breathe, eat or drink, or play in water.

As the director of EPA’s STEM (which stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”) outreach program in Research Triangle Park (RTP), I’m always eager to find ways to engage our scientists, engineers, and other employees in science outreach and education.

We give presentations, share hands-on activities, mentor, and regularly participate in community events. Each year, more than 200 employees (~10 percent of our RTP workforce) participate in at least one outreach event. In 2012, we participated in 171 school events, 100 of them at schools serving low-income populations.

While one of our objectives is to inspire students to gain an interest in science and the environment, one of the challenges is giving them a taste of how much FUN scientists can have doing field work (they don’t just work inside decked out in white lab coats and geeky protective goggles).

One solution: the Village Green Project!

The Village Green Project is a prototype solar-powered air monitor that EPA scientists developed to place in a central location for about one year.

We explored several possible partnerships for the Village Green site and are excited to announce that it will soon be installed at the South Regional Branch of the Durham County Library, whose design theme is conveniently “Air!” This location fits our key criteria, and we are excited to join forces with the library’s existing outreach program to share STEM enrichment opportunities.

Additionally, the library is located across from Lowes Grove Middle School, which will become a STEM magnet school in the fall of 2013. EPA has participated in STEM outreach at Lowes Grove for several years, and we are excited about the opportunity the Village Green Project will offer our scientists who teach after-school Citizen School Apprenticeships.

Instead of talks and showing pictures about what scientists do, we will be able to leave the lab coats and goggles behind and walk outdoors to experience REAL FIELD WORK. It may just be fun enough to inspire some future scientists!

About the author: Kelly Leovic is the director of EPA-RTP’s STEM Outreach Program and has worked for the EPA as an environmental engineer since 1987. She enjoys spending time with her three teenagers (really!) and plans to bring them on a field trip to see the Village Green Project.

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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