Local Teacher and Student from Daingerfield Visit Belize as part of Study Program Sponsored by AEP

SHREVEPORT, La., August 6, 2004 -- Evreda Janene Rice and Laura Lou Grainger from Daingerfield High School were among  the six students and eight teachers who participated in the “Environmental Learning and Adventure in Belize Program” (E-LAB) sponsored by American Electric Power, parent company of Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO).   
The group along two AEP representatives spent nine days in Belize at three field research stations.  While there, they learned the concepts of storing, or sequestering, carbon to control the worldwide impacts of carbon dioxide emissions.  The participants learned about the delicate balance of ecosystems in three completely different environmental settings, and about ancient Mayan culture and current Belizean culture.  They also snorkeled the Western Hemisphere’s longest coral reef while spending two days on a tiny island 14 miles off the Caribbean coast of Belize.
The students and teachers are sponsored by an AEP power plant in their respective area and selected for the program by their individual schools.  The 2004 E-LAB experiences marks the fourth year for the program. 
During the trip students and teachers learn about the inter-relationships between energy, the economy and the environment.  They study environmental issues such as climate change, tropical rain forest ecology and biodiversity, as well as local culture.  They observe how local residents are now learning to earn a living without cutting down the rain forest.  The group also has an opportunity to visit a local community, joining in local customs and sharing a meal.
AEP has been working with other, like-minded organizations to preserve tropical rain forests in a number of locations.  The goal of these projects is to demonstrate the benefits of preserving trees that absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.  By “soaking up” this greenhouse gas, the potential for global climate change is reduced.  
Experienced guides, AEP environmental specialists and K-12 resource teachers accompany the students and teachers selected for the E-LAB program.  AEP pays all of the expenses for the trip.  Teachers who participate in the program are encouraged to incorporate “lessons learned” from the program into their curriculum.  Students who participate in the program typically have just completed their junior year in high school; they are encouraged to make presentations about the trip tot their school and local community groups.
Rice is a 12th grade student this fall at Daingerfield High School and Grainger is a Spanish teacher at the school.  They were chosen based an essay and application both submitted to that school’s superintendent.   AEP chose those schools because of its close proximity to SWEPCO’s Welsh Power Plant.  Also, all participants previously had demonstrated their commitment to the environment. 
Rice and Grainger were nominated as candidates to participate by Jim Trimble, Welsh Power Plant general manager.  “I knew that both would learn a lot by being a part of this program,” Trimble said.  “Given the proximity to our power plant, I believed that they would find many of the environmental topics covered in this program very informative and interesting.”
Now that they have returned from the trip, the teachers will develop lesson plans focused on climate change, sustainable energy development, tropical forest ecology and biodiversity topics.  The lesson plans will be posted on AEP’s E-LAB website.  Each participant will make at least three presentations to community or school groups.
The teachers and students were encouraged to enter observations about the trip in a journal periodically.  Grainger wrote the following early on during the trip:
“The moment I awakened, I got up walked over to get a delicious cup of Belizean coffee, grabbed my binoculars and sat out on our porch to look for birds. In seconds I spotted two parrots!  I’d never seen Red Lored Parrots before! They were bright tropical green with yellow around their eyes and gorgeous red when they spread their wings. They played with each other for almost 20 minutes. At least 2 or 3 toucans flew to nearby trees. I’ll never forget their incredibly beautiful yellow beaks and their silhouette as they flow away. Terry and Bladimir and Lee arrived and we got to see them up close through Bladimir’s powerful telescope. A great start to quite an adventurous day!”
Rice wrote the following entry at the close of the trip. 
“This amazing, incredible, extraordinary, uplifting experience has finally come to a close. I can’t believe it. I have so completely formed to this new Belizean atmosphere that I almost can’t imagine anything else.
I think that I can narrow down my experiences into the four F’s. Forest, Food, Fun and Friends.
The rainforest had an atmosphere different than anything I have ever experienced. I just loved it. The bugs pestered and the humidity made sweat pour down my entire body but there was so much to learn within its verdant leaves. Our guides, Ramón and Vladimir at La Milpa, and Jose at Hill Bank, shared as much of their never ending knowledge with us a they could in the time we had together. And we were held captive by their words.”
SWEPCO is an operating unit of American Electric Power, which owns more than 36,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the United States and is the nation´s largest electricity generator.  AEP is also one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, with more than 5 million customers linked to AEP’s 11-state electricity transmission and distribution grid.  The company is based in Columbus, Ohio. SWEPCO serves over 165,500 customers in East Texas.

Scott McCloud
Communications Consultant

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