National Energy Foundation: Fostering Student Debate on Utah’s Air Quality

By Janet Hatch, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Imagine a distinguished group of external panelists assembled at the Utah State Capitol. Their purpose is to take energy questions from an audience comprised of government and community experts. Little did they know that two fifth grade girls would emerge from the crowd and surprise everyone with a complex question and follow-up inquiries!

Since 1991, the Utah Debate program has inspired students in grades four through nine to develop a deep understanding of issues related to Utah’s energy and water resources and the environmental landscape. During the current school year, Utah school administrators, the National Energy Foundation, and UCAIR collaborated to engage students in the study of Utah’s air quality.

An informational conference introduced the year’s debate-resolution topic. Study culminated in the spring with regional and state debate meets. Most importantly, it produced students with the ability to communicate complex aspects of Utah’s air quality as well as the research and critical-thinking skills to produce solutions for the future.

Caleb Maxfield

Caleb Maxfield, a State Debate winner from Eastwood Elementary School, debated the cons of mass transit use to improve air quality.

The potential for students to positively impact our air quality doesn’t stop there.

During the school year, Utah educators participated in the Road to Clean Air Workshops sponsored by the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development for the Wasatch Front series, and by Utah State University, Washakie Renewable Energy, and Utah Clean Cities for the Cache Valley Educator Workshop. These teachers took lesson binders and supply kits back to the classroom to provide hands-on, STEM-based learning to an estimated 7,252 students.

The Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development also sponsored a Road to Clean Air Video Contest and contributed to the development of the Alternative Fuels Poster, which they provided to 2,000 Utah classrooms.

Like the fifth graders at the Capitol, Utah students will continue to share their understanding of Utah’s air quality, amazing even the adults around them. It may cause a little embarrassment when a kid gives the reminder to turn off the engine, turn down the thermostat, or carpool, but we appreciate and value the help.

Learn more about the National Energy Foundation’s Utah Debate program by visiting our website. While you’re there, check out the elementary and middle school debate videos as well as the conference presentations that helped prepare students for this year’s air quality debates.

Janet HatchI am the Director of Programs and Curriculum for the National Energy Foundation, a Utah-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. I have been privileged to work with these and other educational programs that cultivate and promote an energy-literate society. I have an education degree from the University of Utah and am married with two teenagers.