Some Chicago Area Teens Will Learn To Drive With An EV, Thanks To Grants From ComEd

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It’s kind of fun to think about how future kids might not know anything about gas-powered cars. When they become the norm, and kids didn’t ride in them growing up, didn’t learn to drive on gas, and didn’t generally know that world at all, things for them might be the opposite than they are for people who are adults buying an EV today.

“You can’t charge it at night, and have to go to the gas station every week or two?” they might ask, in dismay. “What’s that gawd-awful smell?” They might like the quick fuel stops on road trips, but then again, they might complain that there’s no time for a snack and a bathroom break.

These funny moments might be coming a little sooner than we thought, though. A recent announcement from ComEd, the electric company in Chicago and other parts of northern Illinois, means that more teens are going to learn to drive in an EV and then bug their parents with those questions later.

Five public high schools in the area will have students drive electric vehicles (EV) as part of driver education class, thanks to a $250,000 investment that ComEd announced today. The “EVs for Education” program provides schools with funding to offset the cost of an EV and EV charger. As a result, students will have practical experience driving EVs and learning about new zero-emissions vehicles on the rise in Illinois and across the country/world.

ComEd is now open to applications for the 2023 program year. If your school is interested in participating, apply as soon as possible — the deadline isn’t until December 31st, 2022. You can find the application easily on ComEd’s website.

“Thanks in part to Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), EVs are gaining popularity in Illinois, and ComEd is taking steps to prepare the next generation for the new era of technology that’s proven to lower harmful tailpipe emissions and improve air quality for all our communities,” said Gil Quiniones, CEO of ComEd. “ComEd is proud to partner with school communities across the region to power education programs that will help remove barriers to EV use and inspire drivers to embrace this exciting new technology that is key to our clean energy future.”

ComEd made the announcement from Taft High School, which received an EVs for Education grant in 2020 and used it to purchase two new Chevy Bolts and two new charging stations for use in driver education. Since its launch in 2019, ComEd’s EVF Education program has awarded $700,000 to 14 schools across northern Illinois, including six CPS schools.

Five new schools have been identified to participate in the 2022 program, including:

  • Dwight Township High School, Dwight, Ill.
  • Glenbard North High School, Carol Stream, Ill.
  • Harvard High School, Harvard, Ill.
  • Jefferson High School, Rockford, Ill.
  • Lane Tech College Prep High School, Chicago

“Today’s students have more interest in electric vehicles than any previous generation, which is why it’s crucial that we introduce them to this experience as they learn the rules of the road,” said Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “Working with ComEd, we are expanding this unique curriculum to new Chicago high schools every year and inspiring a new generation to take on new technologies that are key to our future.”

Schools that participate in EVs for Education receive a $50,000 grant to help them electrify their driver education curriculum by adding an EV to their existing vehicle fleet and purchasing at least one Level 2 charger. In addition to providing students with experience behind the wheel of an EV, the program teaches them how to identify the vehicle’s basic components, understand charging requirements and different types of charging equipment, and operate and charge an EV responsibly.

So, hopefully Chicago will see fewer EV drivers making rookie mistakes, like charging to 100% at DC fast chargers!

Not only does the EVs for Education program remove monetary barriers that may stop some schools from electric vehicles, but it also gives students and teachers real-world experience with cutting-edge technology. To make this happen, ComEd collaborated with the Illinois High School & College Driver Education Association to design a curriculum specifically for this program.

“The ComEd EVs for Education Grant program is delivering new vehicles and equipment that will help thousands of public high school driver education students take steps to learn the rules of the road using electric vehicles,” said Wayne Hartmann, Board Representative for the Illinois High School & College Driver Education Association. “In addition to putting students in touch with cutting edge equipment, new curriculum we’ve helped developed for this program will help familiarize students with differences of driving and maintaining EVs, including charging methods. With EVs gaining more and more popularity in Illinois, the work ComEd is doing is essential to a safe adoption of this new technology by our newest drivers.”

If you want to apply for an EVs for Education grant, your organization must be a public school driver education program that’s located in ComEd’s service region. If you are also based in a diverse community or one that is underserved by EV access/charging, then your application will be prioritized.

“We are extremely excited to partner with ComEd and provide an amazing opportunity to the students of Harvard High School and future generations of CUSD 50 students and families,” said Katey Dietz, driver education team lead at Harvard High School. “In line with CUSD 50’s strategic plan, this partnership offers a variety of different vehicles for our students to learn with. With the support of this grant, Harvard High School along with the Harvard Community Education Foundation will be able to take steps so that our students can be exposed to green technology they may not yet have had the opportunity to see, let alone use. The EVs for Education program opens learning opportunities for our driver’s education students that would not be possible otherwise.”

EVs for Education is one example of how ComEd is working to get communities ready for the large increase in EV adoption projected in Illinois. Recent state and federal legislation incentivizes the adoption of EVs to help reduce climate change–causing carbon pollution from transportation, which currently contributes more than any other sector in the U.S. Through CEJA, Illinois has set targets to decrease carbon emissions, including a goal to have 1 million EVs on roads by 2030.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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