8/6/2004

Local Teachers and Student from Tatum and Hallsville Visit Belize as part of Study Program Sponsored by AEP

SHREVEPORT, La., August 6, 2004 – Dina Brady, Taylor Amanda Whyte and Lee Branson 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 with two AEP representatives recently 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 swell 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 tress that absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.  By “soaking up” this green house 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 to their school and local community groups.  
Brady, a science teacher at Tatum Elementary School, was recruited as a resource counselor for AEP who will help coordinate lesson plans for the classroom. Whyte, a 12th grader this fall at Hallsville High School and Branson, a science teacher at the school, were chosen based an essay and application both submitted to that school’s superintendent.  AEP chose Hallsville High School because of its close proximity to SWEPCO’s  Pirkey Power Plant.  Also, all participants previously had demonstrated their commitment to the environment. 
Whyte and Branson were suggested as candidates to participate by Arne Melson, Pirkey Power Plant general manager.   “I knew that both would learn a lot by being a part of this program,” Melson said.  “Given the proximity to our power plant, I knew 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 also 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.  Whyte wrote the following entry:
 
“There are so many animals here! We went frogging, looking for the red-eyed tree frog, which we found and was very cute. Then, after everyone else had gone back to camp, Ashley, Lee, and I went walking down the main road. There wasn’t much activity, but the best part was when we turned off our lights, and it was pitch black. The only visible thing was the white road. We stood there in silence for what seemed like hours, but it was so peaceful. Everything seemed to be talking to us, but we couldn’t see it. It was really nice.”
 
Branson, the teacher who named himself “Bird Nerd,” wrote the following near the conclusion of the trip: 
 
“This journal entry is difficult. I am in the Belize City airport waiting to depart. I am ready to see my family; however, I must admit I am a little depressed. The friendships I have made on the trip will always be cherished. It’s not as much the place I will miss, as it is my friends. I am an amateur ecologist and the environment was something from a dream. The overall experience was so overwhelming that I cannot do it justice with words. I truly love my new friends, and I will never forget this experience. I hope this trip meant half as much to the others as it did to me.”
 
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.
 
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Scott McCloud
Communications Consultant
318-673-3532

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