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Tours at UNT may impact future

Kudos to the University of North Texas for making it possible for young people to tour the campus to learn about sustainability and renewable energy.

Such lessons should be a part of every child’s education — it’s never too early to start thinking about how our habits can impact the environment and help shape the future.

Carrying worksheets on clipboards, dozens of fifth-graders were among the latest to take a tour at UNT last week. Two tour guides from the Office of Sustainability took groups of students to walk the field of Apogee Stadium, see elliptical machines in the recreation center that generate energy and visit the Zero Energy Laboratory, which has net-zero energy consumption.

This was the first of several tours that will take place over the next month, said Nicole Cocco, UNT’s Office of Sustainability outreach coordinator. All fifth-grade science classes from the Denton school district will be visiting UNT.

Initially the sustainability tours were designed for business professionals, potential donors and municipal leaders, but last year, officials with the Duncanville school district called Cocco and asked if they could bring sixth-graders to learn about sustainability.

Cocco and others in the department worked with Duncanville teachers to create a worksheet for students and a solid curriculum base and spent a day with more than 100 sixth-graders.

It wasn’t long before word about the opportunity began to spread.

Newton Rayzor Elementary School fifth-grade teachers asked for a tour, and they brought the district science coordinator along. Now, there are four more tours scheduled for this year.

A second tour coordinator was hired to specifically work with the kids, Cocco said.

“It’s definitely caused us to shift the main focus of our tours a little bit, but we really enjoy it. I think actually, we prefer it,” she said. “It’s a lot more fun for us, and we feel like we have a bigger impact. I mean, talking to 15 LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] professionals is great, but this is something that we instill in pretty much all of Denton’s youth with really engaging, thought-provoking knowledge about sustainability.”

The tour is so desirable because it crosses off four of the five renewable energy sources outlined in the new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which the Texas Education Agency outlines as education standards for each grade level, said Angie Passons, a fifth-grade science teacher who helped coordinate the tour for her Blanton Elementary School students.

“It aligns with our TEKS that students learn about the five alternative energy resources, and how to conserve energy, sustainability and protecting our environment,” she said.

Not only does the tour align with TEKS, but it also provides a great opportunity for some practical lessons that could prove to be invaluable as the students continue their studies and go to work developing solutions to the problems confronting our world.

And who knows? Thanks to the reception they’ve received from the Office of Sustainability, many of the students who take the tours may decide to return to UNT to pursue their goals in higher education.