Students at South Jamaica’s August Martin High take part in summer jobs that double as STEM experience

Courtesy of Solar One

For the past three years, students at August Martin High School in South Jamaica have had the opportunity to participate in a unique summer youth employment program that blends for-credit academics, personal development and engagement through environmental sustainability through career exploration and service learning. 

The CareerCLUE program is an initiative of the NYC Department of Education (NYC DOE) and the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development Summer Youth Employment Program (DYCD, SYEP). Solar One is a nonprofit organization that delivers environmental education programming to New Yorkers of all ages throughout the five boroughs and beyond, and was the first nonprofit STEM Education partner for CareerCLUE, which has now expanded throughout the city.

Solar One’s CareerCLUE program builds student knowledge through experiential learning while imparting the mix of skills necessary to thrive in the emerging green careers of the 21st century.

“CareerCLUE provides experience for 14- and 15-year-olds to get paid while learning about green jobs and careers growing here in New York City,” said Karen Alsen, director of education at Solar One. “During this program we deliver our green design lab curriculum, which is our K-12 curriculum. It focuses on environmental sustainability, energy, food, water, materials, recycling and air quality.”

August Martin High School, located at 156-10 Baisley Blvd., is one of six schools participating in the six-week summer program, which runs from July 8 to Aug. 15. CareerCLUE was launched at August Martin in 2016 and has received a positive evaluation from students. 

“I hope this program lasts a very long time,” said Treasure Russell, 15, a rising junior. “It’s very fun and educational for science. I wanted to learn about topics like water pollution and how our food was sent to us. So far, I’ve learned the different types of farming, food waste and the amount of water we use … we built solar cars, went on trips to different areas like a recycling center in Brooklyn.”

The students with their solar energy cars they learned how to build in the program.

For Abdul Ahmed, 15, also a junior, enjoyed spending his summer days learning inside and outside of the classroom while receiving a stipend and academic credit for his participation.

August Martin junior Abdul Ahmed (Courtesy of Solar One)

“I thought it would be a good thing for me and I learned a lot from this program — the food that we eat, how we can use solar panels for energy, the rising sea levels,” Ahmed said. “The program is a fun process but it can be work, it’s fair. Overall, it was a great experience and I’ll continue to go on trips and learn more about what is going on in the world.” 

The students will wrap up their summer service learning experience with a final presentation on Aug. 15. 

According to Bruno Estrada, an environmental educator at Solar One, CareerCLUE provides students with a holistic summer job employment opportunity, while engaging in STEM-related activities.

“Many times many of these students don’t have the opportunity to get a job over the summer because of their age or because they may not have the experience or necessary skills to hold a job,” Estrada said. “One of the greatest impacts [of the program] is having that work experience … although it’s a classroom setting, they sign in everyday, they go through evaluations every three weeks and work on a group project together. It’s a step into what work life is like, and keeps them motivated throughout the year.”  

(Courtesy of Solar One)

Solar One’s CareerCLUE program was recently selected as a 2019 winner of the national UL Innovative Education Award (ULIEA) and will receive $50,000 to further expand its summer youth program for low-income and at-risk students. The UL Innovative Education Award is a first-of-its-kind initiative designed to invest up to $250,000 annually in environmental and STEM education, sustainable communities and youth empowerment.

We’re super excited to receive this funding to allow us to support the existing program but to also expand it hopefully for next year, to just continue to improve it and to particularly improve the experience the students had,” Alsen said. 

The ULIEA program is celebrating five years of recognizing organizations that demonstrate effective educational programming and community engagement. Past winners have promoted E-STEM in a variety of ways, which include providing opportunities to make direct improvements in their communities, using hands-on education through experiences like cleaning up a mock oil spill and onboard floating classrooms. 

“There has never been a more important time to engage youth across North America in environmental issues and education,” said Christiane Maertens, program director for the UL Innovative Education Award. “The partnership with UL and NAAEE has demonstrated increased interest in E-STEM among youth.”