Students in Virginia Beach will soon have new exciting career paths to explore thanks to a grant that will be used to create a Renewable Energy Technologies Program. BayPort Credit Union and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division announced last week that the Virginia Beach Education Foundation is being awarded their $500,000 Accelerating Change Together (ACT) Grant.

The grant was created to address gaps in services for Hampton Roads, and this year’s focus centers on education and workforce development. The Contributions Committee selected the Virginia Beach Education Foundation’s application because the proposal featured an original, innovative, and sustainable project plan to impact a target population.

The funds will be used to begin to build a system to connect students to local careers in solar, offshore wind, and electronic vehicles. According to the organization’s grant proposal, an informal query of other school divisions in the region showed that neighboring localities are not yet offering high school career and technical electives in Renewable Energy and that all are exploring ways to create programs in this rapidly growing sector.

“We're super excited about the opportunities for our kids and some of the hands-on, extra things that we're going to be able to do because of the grant,” explained Dr. Sara Lockett, director of the Office of Technical and Career Education at VBCPS.

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Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Education Foundation

Through the three-year grant, VBCPS will add a new two-year, half-day program for high school students at the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) called Renewable Energy Technologies I & II. The ATC is a career and technical center located on the Virginia Beach campus of Tidewater Community College. The new program will provide students opportunities to become skilled professionals through targeted curriculum, hands-on projects, and recognized industry credentials in the areas of photovoltaics, wind technologies, and electronic vehicles.

Enrolled students will learn alongside industry partners as they are involved with ongoing projects including, but not limited to solar panel installation and maintenance on VBCPS campuses, environmental impact research at the Environmental Studies Program, student education outreach to elementary and middle schools, and by adding solar technology to the Education Foundation House Building Project—a project through which students who are studying skilled trades build a house every two years.

“Now kids working on this house build are going to get to work with a community partner to design and implement solar technology in the house, including car charging and complete off-the-grid battery storage for the power that the solar panels generate. They’re going to get to be involved in that project from start to finish.” Lockett said. She said they will also be exposed to other industries by working with the students who are completing the framing, wiring, brick masonry, and other trades for the house.

Additionally, the grant provides funds to purchase mobile renewable energy outreach kits that high school students will use to design projects that they will then demonstrate for elementary and middle school students to build awareness of renewable energy and careers in the field. They would also demo these kits at various community events including career fairs and STEM events.

The renewable energy field is a fast-growing one that will provide numerous job opportunities for students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics 2022 Labor Outlook Handbook, employment of solar photovoltaic installers is projected to grow 27% between 2021 and 2031 and wind turbine service technicians is the second fastest growing field in the country with a projected growth of 44% in that same time frame.

The Renewable Energy Technologies pathway will prepare students for certifications in wind and solar energy, as well as introduce them to the technologies used in electric vehicles. The grant proposal writers also stressed that beyond growing the region’s workforce in the renewable energy sector, they hope to provide students with a strong connection to the region and give them a reason to stay in the area, build a career and raise a family.

“This is a great day for innovation and sustainability here in Virginia Beach City Public Schools. We are thrilled that our students are some of the first beneficiaries of the ACT Grant,” said VBCPS Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence. “With the help of these funds, we will launch a new ATC program that will positively impact our community for years to come. Thank you to BayPort and Newport News Shipbuilding for helping us to ensure our students are future-ready!”

VBCPS will begin enrolling now for the new program slated to launch in the fall. Applications are currently being accepted for the Advanced Technology Center, which offers three areas of study: Information Technology and Computer Sciences, Digital Design and Marketing, and Architecture, Engineering and Manufacturing. Learn more at the center’s website.

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