Valley View High School is bringing energy to the classroom with its new Energy Education Program, making them the first school in Pennsylvania to offer a course of this kind at the high school level.
Energy as a whole is an ever-evolving and growing aspect of people’s lives. Developing more of it and making it as efficient as possible will be a boon for careers for years to come. It’s a global effort, but in Pennsylvania, natural gas, the state’s fastest growing energy industry, and education have always had a longstanding partnership to develop those careers.
While that partnership has typically been most noticeable among local colleges, this school year at Valley View High School sees a first-of-its-kind collaboration between natural gas and education, as the school and the industry teamed up to create a high school class devoted to energy.
“The class offered at Valley View High School is called the Energy Education Program,” Teacher and Curriculum Developer Rachel Michos said. “It was developed after we realized the need to provide our students with an educational experience relating to the abundant opportunities available in the energy sectors, especially those close to home in Pennsylvania. This is the first course of its kind to be offered at the high school level in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
That this is the first course of its kind in the state is especially significant, and represents a big step in the growth of the connection between industry and the community. The course covers a variety of different energy types as well as the related services needed to develop those energies, in addition to an emphasis on hands-on learning and field study.
“The course covers nine types of energy, including coal, nuclear, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower,” Michos said. “There are also units covering aspects related to the energy industry, such as geology, permitting, processing/utilization, policy, and careers. Included in the curriculum are discussions of history, implications, and environmental and economic impacts relating to each energy source.”
“The Energy Education Program targets students of all skill levels and includes a variety of differentiated instruction,” she continued. “Students regularly participate in lab and hands-on activities and use technology as an integral part of the learning process. So far, students have participated in one field trip, but there are plans for others in the future. The field trip took place on October 15 and was hosted by Southwestern Energy and Cabot Oil and Gas. The trip included a field tour of a drilling rig and a production site. Students were also hosted for lunch at the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum and Natural Gas and received information about the degree programs offered as well as a tour of the facilities.”
Michos noted that interest and support from the different industries has been pouring in; leading to weekly expert guest speakers visiting the classroom, which Michos said, “provides an invaluable opportunity for students to come into contact with industry professionals and to have their questions answered by experts in the field.” It’s an experience from which the students are thus far feeding.
“Students currently enrolled in the course are succeeding while enjoying the experiential learning process which is atypical of many high school classes,” she said. “Many students are planning on pursuing post-secondary education and training programs related to careers in the energy sectors. This course will serve to provide our students with a competitive advantage over their peers.”
The support from Southwestern Energy reaches particularly close to home. Community Relations Manager Mike Narcavage graduated from Valley View in 1991 and played an integral part in developing the program. He described how several years ago while working for a different company during a high school rig tour program he connected with George Howanitz, who was the teacher accompanying the Valley View students that day and also went to high school with Narcavage as well as lived on the same street as him.
“Fast forward a few years after that original tour and George and I got talking,” he said. “George is now the chair of the Science Department at Valley View. George said he wanted to provide the students at Valley View with some new curriculum and new diverse opportunities. He wanted to see if there was a way Valley View could participate somehow with the growing natural gas industry to the north of the school district to help their students understand energy and possibly get a leg up on great jobs the energy industry offers. We tossed some ideas around, not only natural gas, but how the class should focus on all forms of energy.”
“I pulled some industry folks together and we met with administrators at Valley View in early 2014,” Narcavage continued. “Shortly after that meeting we took the administrators, school board, guidance counselors, staff and teachers out on a tour. On the tour they visited a Cabot drilling site, a Southwestern production site and a Williams Compressor Station. It was sometime around then they brought up the idea of creating a class for the students. We also offered them the Junior Achievement Careers in Energy Program, which they hosted in February. We also met with Sen. John Blake and Rep. Frank Farina who are both graduates of Valley View. They liked the idea and were really supportive being this would be the first of its kind curriculum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Due the success of the Junior Achievement program, the decision was made to develop an energy class for Valley View, according to Narcavage. In addition to him, Bill desRosiers of Cabot, John Augustine of the Marcellus Shale Coalition of and Melissa Turlip of Junior Achievement worked with the school to develop the curriculum.
Narcavage noted that being a Valley View Alum made developing the program more special to him in helping the school do something no other district in Pennsylvania is doing, adding that Southwestern is donating funds and equipment for the course in addition to his helping connect Valley View to Lackawanna College’s School of Petroleum and Natural Gas to forge another partnership.
“Being born and raised in the Valley View school district I am glad I can return to my alma mater, which helped me build a solid foundation for my future, and give back to the students who may want to get into a career in energy industry,” he said. “I really enjoy giving back, especially when I can do it with a school and community that has been a part of me for my entire life. The financial support is only way to give back, the other is tapping the knowledge, experiences and resources that not only I can bring but also those of my company and industry. I have built many connections over my professional career and I am glad to share them with Valley View for this project.”
The Valley View and natural gas industry relationship is another example of companies, businesses and communities working together to develop the energy future of Pennsylvania, and in part the energy future of the country as well; and along the way allowing people to also give back to their hometowns.