General Motors Eco-Green Schools Demonstrate the Value and Strength of Hands-On STEM Learning During COVID

NWF   |   July 30, 2021

The 2020-2021 school year proved to be an immense challenge for schools across the country. But for sixteen schools working in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation and General Motors, teachers and GM mentors rose to the challenge and succeeded in supporting student STEM and sustainability learning.

For many of these schools, the year began with remote learning and addressing the need to ensure that all students had adequate technology and internet. As the year progressed, schools navigated several transitions from remote to in-person or hybrid learning, and then back to remote.

During this time, many students and families had to also address other impacts of COVID, including losing family members, incomes, and a sense of stability. But through it all — the amazing strength of the teachers, families, and GM mentors allowed students to participate in the GM Eco-Green program, sharing the deep value of connection through hands-on, STEM, and sustainability education during a pandemic.

Navigating Remote Learning

Ypsilanti AC Tech High School in Ypsilanti, Michigan, was one of the schools that worked tirelessly to make sure students had access to laptops and internet during the COVID shutdown. After navigating a difficult end to the 2019-2020 school year, they were able to implement remote learning in the fall of 2020.

Eleventh-grade students learned about climate change with their Youth Energy Squad partners and created a survey about the impacts of climate change on their community. The survey was sent out to community members with questions about climate change that students developed in order to get a sense of their community’s level of knowledge and primary concerns.

GM mentor Lewis Willis partnered with AC Tech to share what GM is doing to mitigate climate change through their 2035 zero emissions goal. He also helped to share the survey with community members. Students then analyzed the results and made recommendations to share with the Ypsilanti Sustainability Commission(YSC).

“Based on the responses, a lot of people are unsure and don’t know about climate change, so one recommendation I would make to the YSC is to try to get people more informed about climate change and different ways to help.”

AC Tech Student

Eco-Schools USA at Home

Reach Academy in Roseville, MI, utilized NWF’s Eco-Schools USA at Home modules to explore consumption and waste by tracking and recording how much plastic waste students generated at home during the pandemic. Students kept track of all of the plastic bottles that they used for a week and at the end of the week they compiled data and explored how plastic is impacting both humans and wildlife.

Students determined that one action they could take would be to utilize reusable water bottles at school and at home. General Motors helped to donate reusable water bottles to staff and students to support this effort and in just one year, Reach Academy was able to save 3,342 bottles from the landfill!

Community Cleanup Campaign

Leaders in Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP), Hamtramck High school’s club dedicated to environmental issues, organized a community cleanup campaign in 2020-2021. Throughout the year, students focused on community connections and conducted six in person clean sweeps (litter removal) around the community. These were the only in person events of the year due to COVID allowing for students to build community with each other and all events were highly attended. In the fall of 2021, the club plans to build a garden on-site and use it as part of a new CTE science class focused on sustainability.

The continued implementation and success of the Eco-Green program during COVID-19, showed how important hands-on and project-based environmental learning is to student engagement and STEM learning. By providing alternative remote learning explorations, students were still able to make connections with the environment, gain critical STEM knowledge and skills, and practice sustainability at home.

Learn more about Eco-Green—a STEM Education partnership.