Co-ops Support STEM Education

The Kenan Fellows Program brings classroom concepts to life for teachers

By Justin Jones

Justin Jones

As an elementary science teacher, I am always looking for ways to bring relevant STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] experiences to my students. In the spring of 2016, I was honored to be selected for a Kenan Fellowship with Pee Dee Electric and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. The Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership at NC State University selects North Carolina teachers for a yearlong program, which includes both professional development and a summer internship working with a mentor in a STEM-related industry. The goal of this program is to train and equip teachers to not only be better educators and leaders in their classrooms, but also in their schools and communities. This amazing opportunity allowed me to work directly with Pee Dee Electric employees to learn firsthand about all the steps that go into both generating electricity and into delivering that electricity to cooperative members.

In school, students often ask the question: “How will we use this?” Effective STEM education is not simply about teaching facts and concepts, but rather about bridging the gap between the classroom and the real world. By partnering with businesses and industries such as North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, the Kenan Fellows Program allows teachers to experience firsthand application of concepts they are teaching in the classroom. As I toured power plants and substations, learned about the logistics of maintaining an effective electrical grid, and even helped linemen install power lines, I certainly developed both an understanding of and appreciation for electrical energy that could never have been gained from books alone.

Not only has my Kenan Fellowship experience benefitted me as an educator, but it has provided many exciting opportunities for my students. My classes were able to visit Pee Dee Electric and its community solar farm to learn about renewable energy resources and the benefits of solar energy.

They learned about electrical safety and the cooperative business model. My students were also able to work with employees from Pee Dee Electric to build a portable solar generator that we used in our classroom to power an incubator to hatch chicken eggs. This project gave students an unforgettable educational experience that would never have been possible without my involvement with the Kenan Fellows Program.

Through my Kenan Fellowship experience and my work with Pee Dee Electric, one thing that stood out to me is the importance that North Carolina’s electric cooperatives place on giving back to education and to their communities.

Through their sponsorship of the Kenan Fellows program, as well as other programs such as Bright Ideas grants, the state’s electric cooperatives are helping to improve STEM education and providing lasting educational experiences for North Carolina students. When we invest in education, we are truly investing in the continued and future success of our communities.

About the Author

Justin Jones was the fourth Kenan Fellow to work directly with a North Carolina electric cooperative. He teaches at Ansonville Elementary in Wadesboro.

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