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Shown is the workbook, student guide and kit each Worthington 5th grader will use to learn about energy through a program by Missouri River Energy Resources. (Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe)

Pilot program to educate local fifth-graders about energy

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WORTHINGTON — When Missouri River Energy Services representatives asked if Worthington wanted to be included in a pilot education program, there was little hesitation.

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“I said, ‘We sure would,”‘ Manager of Worthington Public Utilities Scott Hain said.

With the program, every fifth-grader in Worthington will have lessons on energy and conservation.

“Missouri River staff came to the board, which I sit on, and they said, ‘There seems to be an interest, can we go and develop the program?’” Hain said. “It didn’t take them long to figure out it’s kind of a daunting task starting from scratch, not really knowing what to do. They ended up researching programs that already existed and other things people were doing.”

Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) — the company that provides electricity to Worthington — first gauged interest in such a program a few years ago through a survey.

“A question a couple years ago was ‘Would your utility be interested in a program to provide education about sustainability or electricity to elementary school age?’” Hain said. “A majority of the responses indicated they might have an interest in doing that.”

In all, MRES serves 60 communities in Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Iowa.

Worthington was one of five communities selected. Madison was also selected in Minnesota, while Vermillion, S.D, Orange City, Iowa, and Alton, Iowa, were also chosen for the program.

The company worked with Resource Action Programs out of Nevada to develop the curriculum.

“They do this all over the country,” Hain said. “As they are putting the curriculum together, they actually make contact with the Minnesota Department of Education and get their approval that it’s accredited curriculum.

“As I understand it, school districts have a certain amount of leeway as to how they can apply their curriculum,” Hain continued. “There are certain things that need to be taught. A real key to this was getting buy-in from the local district.”

According to Deb Scheidt, administrative secretary for WPU, the teachers are excited about the program.

“They were very receptive,” she said. “We presented this material to them, they looked it over and were very impressed. They got back to us a few weeks later and said they would be interested in participating.”

In all, 200 packets were ordered for Worthington.

“You get a teacher folder, and that has all the material for all the teachers,” Scheidt said. “It has the accreditation, all the activities and workbook they will go through to cover the program.”

Each student gets a guide and workbook. The in-class portion is comprised of five lessons Hain estimates will take about 15 minutes each.

“They also get this kit to take home,” Scheidt said. “It teaches them energy conservation in the classroom, but then they get this kit to take home to reinforce what they learned in the classroom. It’s kind of family activities.”

Inside the kits are light bulbs, a nightlight and a thermometer. As part of the program, each student is supposed to look at the temperatures of things around the house, including water heaters, refrigerators and freezers.

“It reinforces what they learned in the classroom and makes a family activity out of it,” Scheidt said. “The goal is energy conservation and awareness.”

The pilot program was provided free to both WPU and the school district.

If it is deemed a successful, the program could continue.

“At the last board meeting, what the board approved was in next year’s Missouri River’s operations budget — there are adequate funds for them to do a 50-50 cost share,” Hain said. “Provided this thing is a success, they will offer it to all the members. For those of us in the pilot program, it was absolutely zero cost to us.”

Hain said if the Worthington teachers see this as a valuable program, WPU could pick up the remaining cost.

“My plan is to go ahead and do what MRES did and include funding in the 2014 electric budget to carry this program forward next year for the fifth-graders, and like Missouri River, we’ll await the critique and evaluation of the program,” he said. “If the teachers really thought it was worthwhile and they want to continue it next year, I would anticipate we’ll pick it up and provide it to them at no cost.”

But in the end, the goal is for the students to be more aware of energy, including conservation and future employment in the energy field.

“It’s on the sustainable education side to start them young and get them thinking about it,” Hain said. “They are old enough to kind of comprehend the stuff, but young enough where it’s going to make some lifestyle change.”

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