AUSTIN (KXAN) — For nearly five years, Austin Energy’s EVs for Schools program has provided access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure and related technology curriculum to more than 150 schools across Central Texas. Now, AE is gearing up for the rollout of its upgraded program, adapted to meet the changing landscape of EV technology.

AE first launched EVs for Schools in November 2018 at four Title 1 schools, in collaboration with the nonprofit EcoRise. The nonprofit’s content creation work centers on the intersections of environmental justice and education, with a key focus on climate change and sustainability work alongside science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programming.

“The new mobility that we’re talking about [in the updated curriculum] is really focused on sustainable transportation,” said Amy Atchley, AE’s senior lead for its EV equity program. “It’s the ecosystem of electric mobility and other forms of clean transportation, such as riding in an EV rideshare or riding our public transit — really, looking at that ecosystem and how it all works together.”

Atchley said the content developed with EcoRise explores how new transportation works and the benefits it has on environmental justice, mitigating climate change impacts and improving environmental health and wellness.

EVs for Schools looks to combine the living use of technology through EV charging infrastructure on campuses with interactive programming materials, like virtual reality technology to expand students’ knowledge of and interest in electric vehicles.

“EVs for Schools is just one way that we can reach the community, but it’s also one way that the community can learn from itself,” Atchley said. “Because the kiddos are going home and they are shifting the conversation at the dinner table, and they’re teaching mom and dad.”

She said it comes at a critical time, as AE collaborates with other city leadership on advancing green energy technology in the transportation sector. Currently, both CapMetro and the Austin Independent School District are working to transition its fleets to 100% zero-emission electric buses.

The multi-billion-dollar Project Connect program features those same electric buses, along with an electrically-powered light rail system. Alongside its EVs for Schools program, AE is also expanding charging networks to bring EV charging infrastructure to apartments, townhomes and other multifamily charging complexes.

All these efforts come as the City of Austin works toward its 2040 goal of net zero carbon emissions, alongside a 2030 initiative to have at least 40% of miles traveled on city roads done via electric vehicle technology.

“We know that as a city, as we’re working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we’ve got to get the tailpipes off of the road,” she said. “It’s not just going to be a niche group of people that need to start adopting this new technology — it really needs to be everyday people.”

As part of its efforts, Atchley said AE hosts conversations and community engagement opportunities with a wide cast of neighborhoods and residents who come from a variety of socio-cultural backgrounds, income levels and lived experiences. She said the hope is to facilitate programming that prioritizes people who might not have historically had access to or a voice in city decisions.

“We really have this approach where we’re trying to build from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down,” Atchley said. “What we find is, when you’re doing that, when you’re deploying programs with that approach, everyone rises.”