Oologah Teacher and Student Visit Belize as part of study program sponsored by AEP

Kellie Ann Capps, an English teacher at Oologah-Talala High School, and her sophomore daughter, Emilie Ann, were among six students and eight teachers who participated in a recent “Environmental Learning and Adventure in Belize” (E-LAB) program sponsored by Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s (PSO) parent company, American Electric Power. 

The group, along with 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 help reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.  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 South Water Caye, a tiny island 14 miles off the Caribbean coast of Belize.

The students and teachers are sponsored by an AEP system power plant located in or near their communities and are 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 learn how to make 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 works 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 to their school and local community groups.

Emilie, who will be a junior this coming school year, and her mother, were chosen based on essays and applications they submitted to their school’s principal. Emilie’s essay topic was “What is ‘sustainability’ and how can I promote it?” Kellie’s essay was on how to teach sustainability in the classroom.  AEP chose the school because of its close proximity to PSO’s Northeastern Station Units 3&4 (NES 3&4), a two-unit coal-fired power plant. 

The mother and daughter were nominated as candidates to participate by Gary Briggs, NES 3&4 plant manager.  “I believed that both would learn a lot by being a part of this program,” Briggs said.  “Given Oologah’s proximity to our power plant operations, I knew they would find many of the environmental topics covered in this program 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.  Kellie wrote the following entry:
“E-lab to Belize has been the trip of a lifetime! Sixteen people that are strangers begin this incredible journey, and before it is over we became comrades and friends. The experiences we have shared together could never be duplicated. I will always cherish the memories, experiences, and friendships I have made.”
Emilie wrote the following at the conclusion of the trip:
“I don’t even know where to start, for this trip has been such a blast. I do have to say that South Water Caye was my favorite because everyone was so much closer to each other. Not only that but I loved the island. It was just so pretty and relaxing. I have enjoyed every bit of it and wish it wasn’t ending. I will never forget this trip because it changed me. It made me realize all the problems with the rainforest, and how they are trying to preserve it. I learned so much that I can’t wait to go tell all my friends all the neat and interesting facts that I learned. I am glad that I got to go on this trip and meet all the other exciting people that went. It was so much fun, and I loved every bit of it.”
PSO, a unit of American Electric Power, is an electric utility company serving more than 505,000 customers in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma.  Based in Tulsa, PSO has more than 4,000 megawatts of generating capacity and offers some of the lowest energy prices in the United States.
         PSO’s parent company, American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), 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.

Ed Bettinger
Regional Communications Manager

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