On Wednesday, June 5, the Massachusetts National Energy Education Development (NEED) Youth Awards ceremony was held in the State House. NEED was started more than 30 years ago and is a national project to promote an energy conscious and educated society by creating objective and engaging energy education programs. This year, seven schools, one district and one exceptional student were chosen from applications by Massachusetts schools and awarded for their efforts towards environmental sustainability and community outreach. I had the opportunity to attend as a DOER intern, where part of my work supports our clean energy education initiative. Being a recent college graduate, I was completely surprised by just how much these K-12 students actually knew and understood about energy.
Commissioner Mark Sylvia was the keynote speaker and opened the event by addressing how much the efforts and leadership taken by NEED students and teachers alike are becoming an increasingly important part of Massachusetts’ clean energy initiatives. The NEED curriculum ranges from themes like energy efficiency, to recycling and renewable energy.
That day, there were more than 100 students sitting in the Massachusetts State House for the NEED Youth Awards who had spent the year becoming energy literate. At one point during the award ceremony, each school was given a chance to have student representatives approach the podium and speak about their outreach projects. This is when I actually heard what the students had to say.
I was most impressed with the younger K-8 students’ knowledge. They were using words like solar photovoltaic, energy generation, kilowatt-hour, sustainability… These kids were learning topics in their primary education years that I hadn’t had the chance to start learning about until college − and most of them weren’t able to drive yet, let alone even see a PG-13 movie without an adult.
Commissioner Sylvia made a point during the event that I strongly agree with − “It’s so important for young people to understand the role energy plays in our lives; and it may be more important than trying to educate all the adults in Massachusetts.” If younger people learn about energy and environmental protection today, it will likely influence their actions and cultural values in years to come. And as I witnessed in the Massachusetts’ NEED Youth Awards − students become motivated to act upon an issue they understand when given the opportunity.