Appalachian Basin

Back to School: How Shale Is Supporting Local Students, Teachers & Schools in Ohio

As back to school season kicks off here in Ohio, students and teachers may notice new science labs, school buildings, and scholarship programs.  Each of these improvements are a result of the significant investment that Ohio’s oil and natural gas industry has devoted to local schools—not only by way of their substantial contribution to the local tax base but also through new apprentice and training programs.

For instance, the Utica Shale Academy is a tuition-free program that incorporates a traditional high school curriculum while simultaneously offering specialized courses on the energy industry.  This program prepares students for oil and gas specific certifications so that they can leave high school ready to enter the job market.  In fact, just last month, Austin Sadler, one of the first graduates of the Utica Shale Academy landed a local job directly out of school, with Express Energy Services. This graduate incurred no debt for his training/college and is now gainfully employed locally by the oil and gas industry. As Sadler explained,

“I really didn’t know what I was going to do in my future, so I thought I’d give (Utica Shale Academy) a try, and I really enjoyed my experience. I am very excited to start working in this industry and for the opportunities ahead of me because there are so many places to advance and different directions to go.”

The Utica Shale Academy is only one of the many good things that are happening to Carroll County’s education system because of its robust oil and gas development.

Other programs include Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEP), a non-profit, statewide education program funded entirely by an assessment on all crude oil and natural gas produced in Ohio.  The money from this program is channeled into free science teacher workshops, new buildings, and science labs, all of which strengthen the state’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) offerings. STEM education has been identified by the U.S. Department of Education as a priority due to a shortage of qualified American workers in those fields (particularly compared to countries like the South Korea and Japan).  The OOGEEP offers a way for Ohio students to excel in these lucrative fields without using taxpayer money.

OOGEEP’s science teacher workshops have been especially successful this summer, as more than 75 of Ohio’s teachers attended and learned about the STEM principles at work in the crude oil and natural gas industry.  The idea behind these workshops, which utilize demonstrations, hands-on science labs, and industry guest speakers, is to prepare Ohio’s teachers to better communicate these principles to their students throughout the year.

Workshop lessons include; how biotic material is transformed into hydrocarbons, an explanation of the principles of geologic time and rock cycles, how sound waves are used to map geologic formations underground, how math and engineering play a key role in producing local energy, and how chemistry and petrochemicals are refined and processed into plastics, soaps, medicines, synthetic fibers, and rubber. At the end of these workshops free supplies and teaching materials are sent back to the classrooms of participating teachers, all courtesy of Ohio’s oil and gas producers.

So far more than 2,700 teachers have taken part in these workshops over the years, and according to one Ohio high school teacher, Rebecca Dobson, the hands-on training has been a key learning tool for her students.  “This has been an excellent learning opportunity that allowed me to see and be reassured by the extensive safety and management practices employed by this greatly needed industry,” said Ms. Dobson, “I can’t wait to share what I learned with my students.”  OOGEEP’s teacher-training efforts are critically important Ohio students that are interested in pursuing careers in their local oil and gas industry– a goal made all the more attainable by the $56,000 in scholarships that the OOGEEP gave to Ohio students this year.

Ohio’s school administrators are also happy because– thanks to affordable and reliable domestic energy– Ohio schools are saving millions in energy costs. In fact, IHS Global Insight estimates on energy savings during the 2012-2013 school year showed that, on average, school districts saved $60 million dollars on energy, enough to employ 700 teachers. Ohio public schools saved 28.7 percent on natural gas and approximately 8.4 percent on electricity.

In Carroll County, schools have received such a financial boost that they have been able to build a new training centers for students and are planning a brand new k-12 building— again– at no cost to Carroll County taxpayers.

To understand what this means for the residents of Carroll County, you must have a clear picture of what the area looked like before its energy boom took place. Before oil and gas development started, Carroll County had one of the highest unemployment levels in the state at over 16 percent. School funding and the ability to pay for much needed repairs to county buildings was virtually impossible.  Worse still, young people were unable to find local jobs.

Today, the unemployment rate has dropped an astounding 72 percent and the county is a place full of excitement and opportunity.  In fact, the Carroll County Commissioner, Robert Wirkner, describes the turnaround as a “tale of two counties” adding that “we truly are turning the point of moving forward for prosperity for all.” Similarly, Superintendent David Quattrochi gushed about Carroll County’s recent success saying, “Great things are happening.”

With 495 shale wells, Carroll County has certainly reaped the benefits of domestically produced energy.  But the truth is all the school districts in the state are benefiting. Whether it be through teacher workshops, industry-focused educational programs, reliable domestic energy supplies lowering costs, scholarship, or the simple fact of increased county revenue—Ohio’s energy boom has proven time and again to be good for its schools.

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