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Partner program spotlight: TOLBY

by Katie Traub, community and energy outreach/ AmeriCorps member with the Center for Energy and Environment through Conservation Corps’ Individual Placement program

TOLBY giving high fives to a group of 3rd graders in Andover, MN.

**A quick introduction to TOLBY: TOLBY (Turn Off Lights Behind You) is a youth energy education program delivered by the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE). The program involves a presentation about energy efficiency and conservation, and a visit from TOLBY himself (an energy efficient firefly mascot). **

On March 14 I gave a TOLBY presentation to 120 4th graders at a French immersion school in Edina. It was my very first presentation so the large audience was a bit nerve-wracking, but I quickly got comfortable and had a blast talking to kids about energy, listening to their random comments, and seeing how excited they got when the TOLBY mascot walked in the room. I left the school relieved that I had gotten the first presentation out of the way but eager to get more under my belt.

Four months later and I think I can say I’ve got this thing down. Since March I have given 42 presentations to over 1,900 kids across the state. That’s 42 games of TOLBY Jeopardy, 42 explanations of vampire energy, and 42 times I have been told that the sun is technically not a renewable resource because it will someday explode. I’ve been to classrooms, after school programs, scout troops, and community events. From giving these presentations in so many different communities, there are a few things I have learned:

  1. Kids know a lot about the environment. I’m always impressed when I go to a school and see kids recycling and composting their lunch. It makes me so happy when 3nd graders know why fossil fuels are harmful and can name pretty much every type of renewable energy. From what I have seen, more and more schools are putting a high priority on environmental literacy and work hard to promote environmentally friendly behavior.
  2. That being said, it is also shocking to see that there are schools where kids don’t know much about environmental issues at all. Environmental education is not something that everyone has access to.
  3. When there is a mascot involved, kids will demand to know who is in the costume. There have been many “take off the mask!”, which are always entertaining and slightly frightening for the person in the costume. It’s almost as if knowing who is wearing the costume is more exciting than seeing the actual mascot itself.

This unique program has made my time with CEE extremely enjoyable and exciting. I love being able to interact with kids and members of the community through outreach and education events, get feedback from parents and teachers on how their kids have put to use what they learned from TOLBY, and learn more about how energy use and access impacts families in Minnesota.