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Thaxton Elementary School’s N.E.E.D. Team has won first place, nationally, for elementary school level N.E.E.D. programs. According to the N.E.E.D. Web site at www.need.org, it all began with joint congressional resolution that established National Energy Education Day 30 years ago. It grew into an effort to bring comprehensive energy education to American classrooms.
Dr. Marge Peterson brought the program to Thaxton Elementary School in 1992. After Dr. Peterson retired, 10 years ago, Viola Henry took over. Henry had assisted Dr. Peterson since the beginning.
After Henry retired last year, she continued heading the program. She does this as an unpaid volunteer. Actually, Henry said it was a volunteer job, even when she was still working as a teacher.
“If you can make it interesting, you can hook the kids and take them anywhere you want to,” commented Henry, explaining why she has done this for nearly 20 years.
Where she has taken them is into the world of problem solving. They learn how to assess a problem and figure out what they need to do to solve it.
“It makes them a well-rounded student,” she said. “It boosts their morale.”
This has carryover into other areas of their lives. They learn how to apply problem solving techniques to new situations, she said. They also learn that they can make positive opportunities happen, which builds self esteem, Henry added.
All of this spills over into increased success in their school work.
Henry said that she’s seen the program get students thinking about careers and some have gotten interested in going to college for the first time. Over the past two decades, she’s seen some of her former students go on to earn advanced degrees.
Another big plus is that the older children look out for the younger ones. The N.E.E.D. team members are in fourth, fifth and sixth grades and the older students teach the younger ones.
Henry notes that another great aspect about N.E.E.D. is that its projects are coordinated with the standards of learning (SOL) in science. It provides hands-on experiments that let children get a handle on abstract concepts.
“The kids get a better grasp on what they are doing,” Henry said.
In one experiment, children join hands in a circle and light a small light with the energy their bodies generate. This demonstrates an electrical circuit. If one child lets go of his neighbor’s hand, the electrical circuit is broken and the light goes out. The light also goes out if a child holds his neighbor’s sleeve. This demonstrates insulation.
“It’s a great way to teach the concept of electricity,” said Henry.
Other experiments include generating a measurable electric current from fruit, and a little electric car powered by a fuel cell. The children put distilled water in the fuel cell and use an electric current to separate the water into oxygen and hydrogen. When the process is reversed, it produces electricity to power the car.
Every year, Thaxton’s team documents everything it has done, including school and community projects, and submits this to the national organization. These portfolios are evaluated according to the team’s level, with separate awards for primary school, elementary school, middle school and high school. This is how Thaxton came to be named elementary school of the year.
According to Henry, there are N.E.E.D. teams in 35 states with the number of teams in each state varying from 150 to 200.
This year’s award will be Thaxton’s eighth national award. They have been named Virginia’s elementary school of the year for 19 consecutive years.
It’s also fun for the children. They like the idea that they are doing projects that other children think are cool, and they are impressed when adults listen to them. A few years ago, they had an exhibit at an energy exposition at James Madison University and were amazed when college students stopped to ask the questions. Henry said that some of these college students mentioned that these students were demonstrating a grasp of concepts that they didn’t learn until high school.
For more information about N.E.E.D. go to www.need.org. To see a list of the national winners, click on the youth awards button, then click on the read more button when the picture pops up. Then, click on national winners.