Despite Pandemic Challenges, Envirolution Seeks to Expand Project Recharge as Economy Reopens

As the economy begins to re-open amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak, Reno-based nonprofit Envirolution seeks to expand its Project Recharge Program for the 2020-2021 school year. 

“Project Recharge is a hands-on project based in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) curriculum that engages students, teachers and professional partners,” Mike Robertson, co-executive director of Envirolution, said. “It provides valuable professional development and classroom resources to teachers, which then allows them to empower students to become little energy detectives.”

Each year, Project Recharge facilitates professional development opportunities and resources for 25 local teachers. Teachers then incorporate lessons on energy and sustainable-living initiatives to students in middle school, with high school students creating proposals for various energy-saving sustainability projects in the community.

But the pandemic and subsequent school closures brought about unexpected challenges for Project Recharge this year. One challenge included the cancellation of the program’s sustainability expedition, a week-long tour of sustainable-minded businesses and community partners including Tesla, NV Energy and The Apple Data Center, among others. The expedition was canceled the same week the coronavirus was declared a pandemic early this spring. 

However, last week marked the completion of this year’s program and was celebrated with a Virtual Award Show for participating students.

“We had over 80 student proposals submitted for this year’s Project Recharge, which is significant with them working remotely,” Robertson said. “Being able to complete these proposals has been a larger task than it had been in the past, so it really is quite amazing that [students] were able to complete all of these.” 

Students attend a Virtual Award Show for Project Recharge participants – photo courtesy of Envirolution

The success of this year’s Project Recharge program, which has been expanding significantly since 2014, has Robertson confident that the program will continue expanding into the next school year. 

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to get past this [pandemic] and still provide true value to teachers and students,” Robertson said. “We are looking forward to doing in-person professional development again. That’s where the bread and butter is and we need to make sure we get back there.”

Project Recharge’s professional development training kicks off the program with new teachers each summer. Originally scheduled for June, Envirolution had to postpone its start to July, pending the reopening of the economy.

“This year we’re planning on having 25 new teachers in Las Vegas for the first time, and at least 35 to 40 in Reno,” Robertson said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can still do this. I really hope so because [the professional development of teachers] is the main impetus to make sure the program keeps going.”

Envirolution is also currently exploring an opportunity to implement Project Recharge in rural communities like Winnemucca, incorporating professional development for 15 teachers there.

“[Rural communities] are underserved,” Robertson said. “It’s just difficult to provide them with the adequate resources that they need, and they need them just as much as anybody else.”

Project Recharge provides over $2,000 worth of materials to school teachers each year. The program supplements STEAM activities in the classroom, in conjunction with the school curriculum already in place.

At the end of each year, student proposals are selected for funding by Envirolution and implemented in the community. One lighting proposal implemented in 2019 saved a total of 225,000 kilowatts, or $23,631 in energy costs for a local school.

“It’s a real world change that we’re able to implement because the students first learn about sustainability and energy efficiency, and then start to enact those standards,” Robertson said. “They have a potential career possibility in front of them because they’re doing energy audits. Then creating a comprehensive proposal like this is the kind of work you’d be doing [in the professional world].”

As a 501 c(3) nonprofit, Robertson is pleased with how Envirolution has been able to overcome the challenges the pandemic brought this year. Consequently, he is optimistic the program will continue to expand.

“A lot of people were just canceling these events,” Robertson said. “We were able to pivot and complete it even with COVID-19 occurring. Nonprofits have limited resources, so for us to be able to still complete this is really quite astronomical.”

In the meantime, Robertson has his eye on how well things go with the reopening of the economy per Phase Two of Governor Steve Sisolak’s Silver State Stabilization plan. 

“Things are changing pretty quickly now and June 1 is kind of the first day everybody’s going to start getting back to normalcy,” Robertson said. “We’ll see what one more month does and whether or not we have some sort of an explosion in coronavirus between now and July. So as long as people wash their hands and don’t cough each other’s faces, we should be okay.”

Scott King is a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, pursuing his Master’s degree in Media Innovation. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Scott recently returned from Grenada, where he served for two years as a literacy teacher with the Peace Corps. Support his work in the Ally.


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