How Environmental STEM Education is Powering OUR Schools

April 19, 2016 Written by  Comments Print
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It is no surprise anymore that the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in education are growing at exponential rates in order to keep pace with the rapidly growing demand for tech-driven solutions. Whether it’s smart-phone apps that make our lives more convenient or advanced security systems that make them safer, we are increasingly looking to STEM as the key to unlock the vast human potential still bounded by antiquated ways of thinking.

The same of course applies to our environmental and global resource challenges. With Earth Week 2016 fresh in our minds, we realize that we consistently need more energy, water, and food, but need it to be produced in a clean and sustainable manner, so we can continue fueling our needs for more energy, water, and food. And while water and food are the most fundamental to our physical health, energy is the hidden currency that fuels them both, along with virtually all of our other subsistence needs including housing, transportation, goods production, and disposal.

Thankfully today, there are a wealth of innovative people and organizations that are providing creative solutions to each of these challenges, but as a mentor of ours Larry Petcovic once said, “The only thing good work guarantees is more work”, and we are seeing exactly that! As reliable access to water, energy, food, and information spreads to new corners of the earth, it is further straining our global resource challenges. So investing in the education, particularly the environmental STEM education, of our youth isn’t just a sound business decision for our nation, it is an absolute necessity for our planet.


Our future is only as strong as those who will inhabit it”

That is why greeNEWit created the OUR Schools Program in 2012, as a way to educate and empower future buyers and builders towards a sustainable cleantech driven future. Less than 4 years later on Earth Week 2016, OUR Schools delivered it’s 50th school presentation, marking a milestone of over 25,000 students who have now heard our message of environmental STEM education! But we certainly haven’t done it alone! Thanks to progressive energy policies and a wealth of conscious organizations working in collaboration, Maryland has become a fertile environment for the kind of sustainable innovation we need most.


Students at Longfellow Elementary learn to become Energy Detectives, experts in saving energy & water


Every tree begins with a STEM

Our Vivid Vision™ with the OUR Schools program has always been to build a sustainable future where clean energy and STEM innovation power all of our subsistence needs. But this requires investment now, at all levels of the community, including elementary schools. We work towards this in two primary ways; first, by educating and inspiring our youth to utilize STEM in solving environmental and resource challenges, and second, by connecting sustainable businesses to communities, providing opportunities for effective impact now, and development opportunities for the solution seekers that will drive the impact tomorrow.

Thankfully, Maryland’s school districts agree. Howard County Public Schools was just named one of the country’s best school districts, and much of Maryland can relate. Here’s Mary Schiller, the Director of Community Partnerships for Howard County Schools, on the need for collaboration: “Community involvement helps keep our school system among the best in the nation. Partnership activities remain of great interest to the community at large. Local businesses and organizations understand that the excellence of our schools is essential to Howard County’s vitality and economic prosperity.”

One example of this that we’re familiar with are the free STEM presentations and after-school programming we provide to elementary schools all across Maryland. We work with each of our partner schools to emphasize the importance of STEM as it relates to environmental sustainability, highlighting behavioral and technological solutions to issues surrounding energy & water conservation, energy production, transportation, food, and waste. Ms. Susan Langley, G/T teacher at Forest Ridge Elementary describes how they’ve partnered with OUR Schools to “engage students in critical thinking towards taking care of our environment. They’re learning valuable information which they can then apply to theirs and their family’s everyday lives, and gaining an awareness that provides a stepping stone for them to become a generation seeking out better choices for our environment and making them a habit.”

A clip from our presentation about food waste & sustainable food

Why elementary schools?

When I first started learning about what types of opportunities were being presented to different grade levels, I came across a number of excellent organizations providing quality programming to Middle and High school students, but not much on regarding environmental STEM at the elementary level. We first wondered whether 2nd graders could even understand how solar panels worked, or how fossil fuels affected our environment, but now after 25,000 case studies, we have no doubt that they absolutely can!

We’re seeing students at younger and younger ages grasping high level concepts such as climate change and the hidden environmental costs of industry and agriculture, especially when you can frame it in relatable terms. Take renewable energy storage for example. Students know the sun renews itself every day, but they also realize we need to store that energy to power our energy needs at night when the sun isn’t shining, or for densely populated areas that can’t afford the space to capture enough solar. And when they see how fun engineering their own batteries can be, or discovering how solar light can power their UV bracelets, all the light bulbs shine. As Tesla and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk simply puts it, “We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun. You don’t have to do anything, it just works. It shows up every day”.

OUR Schools Coin Battery greenewit

Students engineer batteries to solve energy storage challenges facing clean energy

Heather Weeks, G/T Resource Teacher at Waterloo Elementary, describes how recent updates to the state curriculum are now introducing environmental literacy at primary grade levels, “ Since the new Next Generation Science Standards have been introduced, students are much more excited about science and learning about the world around them. They especially enjoy the hands-on investigations and the real-life learning.” She adds, “It's important to start science education and environmental literacy at a young age so that children grow up being stewards for the environment.”


Where the rubber meets the road

All across the state of Maryland, businesses and organizations are working towards common goals of empowering students through education. OUR Schools provides the spark to the youngest participants, increasing the pool of solution seekers searching to learn more. But when it comes to the most meaningful impact, it’s the educators and organizations who are reaching underprivileged communities that face the toughest challenges, but create the richest rewards..

Power52Two weeks ago at Baltimore’s Light City Sustainability Innovation Conference, I witnessed an exhilarating keynote presentation by Ray Lewis and Rob D. Wallace of Power52, an exciting new partnership between Bith Energy, BGE, and Ray Lewis to provide reliable solar energy to low income communities in Baltimore at a fraction of the price they are already paying. In addition, Power52 trains and employs community residents to assist in the development of these projects. Here’s Power52 President Robert Wallace on the need to involve all members of the community, “We realized that community impoverishment was due to lack of economic opportunity, so we wanted to create these opportunities through education and employment in an industry with limitless potential for positive impact.” Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and Power52 Vice President Ray Lewis adds “Power52 will not only give people opportunities, but it will also educate people so that they can understand the importance of energy independence while cutting their utility bill.”


"Power52 will not only give people opportunities, but it will also educate people so that they can understand the importance of energy independence while cutting their utility bill"...(Ray Lewis)

A second organization, EduSerc, provides after-school STEM enrichment programs to middle school and high school students seeking careers in the STEM fields. Their family-based approach to education incorporates the parents into the child’s learning process and has now helped thousands of underprivileged students land jobs and scholarships through their business partners. They emphasize bridging the divide between organizations and education, providing hands-on applied learning opportunities with real world problems and companies. When asked about the importance of community partnerships, Smith commented “We’re always seeking out more partnerships to provide real world perspective and opportunities to exactly the kind of students who are seeking them out the most.” These symbiotic relationships are what provide the most dynamic and applicable learning experiences, but they require continual investment from, and into all angles of the community.


Investing in OUR future - Have we mentioned this yet?

When it comes to investments, we traditionally think of the financial type. And when it comes to financial investments, the prevailing notion everyone agrees on is the age-old adage, “the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be”. Well of course, this wisdom is certainly not refined to just finances. The same can be applied to our health, our relationships, and of course, our planet. Investments continue to mature the longer the horizon, so while it’s of the utmost importance that our companies are investing in environmental technologies and processes that will yield results in the short and mid term, we have always been most inspired by the organizations that are looking 30, 50, 100 years into the future, like Elon Musk and his little collection of billion-dollar sustainability companies.

After already breaking massive ground on the accessibility of renewable energy production, transportation, and storage, Musk’s latest venture, SpaceX, has its audacious sights set on the colonization of Mars.

Happy earth day from Space X

©2016 SpaceX - wishes everyone happy earth day while we still have one!

To see how essential clean technology is to even consider a mission of that magnitude, you can read various projections of their plans (or more enjoyingly watch The Martian). Both are filled with tech-driven sustainability solutions such as harnessing renewable energy, sustainable and efficient food production, and an acute understanding of how to adapt with and to ecosystems to function symbiotically with our survival needs. SpaceX has publicized their goal to land the first human on Mars in 10 years, which would place our first OUR Schools elementary students in college at that time, studying how to pioneer a path to the first Martian city.


Where 1 + 1 = 11: The math you didn’t learn in school, until now

We begin and end every presentation and lesson with our vivid vision of a clean energy future, well technically it’s wallEE the Clean Energy Dog’s (the star mascot of our program) vision, where renewable energy and clean technology address all of our global resource needs. But this challenge requires continuous investment and commitment to the STEM education and environmental literacy of all our children.

OUR Schools Mascot wallEE from greeNEWit

wallEE delivers a public address on his vision of a clean energy future

As immeasurably valuable as our teachers are everyday in their craft, classrooms only go so far in teaching students about the daily challenges organizations and engineers face regarding resources. And while businesses will continue to make cutting edge innovations on challenges that yield results today, it is the teachers, professors, and schools who hold the key to unlocking the solutions for tomorrow. Striking a harmony between the two is always the most difficult, but rewarding challenge.

In the closing lines of his Light City presentation, Ray Lewis said, “The vision is to build a real and true foundation that can start with us, but that carries on for generations.” We couldn’t agree more. Our future is only as strong as those who will inhabit it. The more we invest now, the better off everyone will be.


OUR Schools is an environmental education program created by greeNEWit to empower future buyers and builders towards a sustainable clean-tech driven future. OUR Schools partners with a variety of local, state, and regional organizations to provide free education and sustainability solutions to communities around the DC/Baltimore area. Our primary sponsor is Minnick’s, an HVAC contractor based in Laurel, MD who shares our long term vision of healthier and more efficient homes, families, and communities.

For more information about programming or sponsorships, please contact or call Program Director Gabe Bustos at 866-994.7639 ext. 743

This article is Authored by: Gabe Bustos

Gabe Bustos on Linkedin