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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

High Schools Honored for Sustainability Initiatives

Air Date: Week of
Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie, PA has a 10.4 KW solar array on their roof.

Three public high schools are celebrated for their innovative approaches and solutions to energy issues. Host Bruce Gellerman spoke to students from each of the schools to find out how the school has tackled energy efficiency.


GELLERMAN: Well, U.S. public schools spend more than six billion dollars a year on energy. That's more than on textbooks and computers combined. The National Environmental Education Foundation estimates a third of that energy in schools could be used more efficiently. After a nationwide search, the group has identified and is honoring three schools for their innovative use of energy-saving technology. The schools will receive 10,000 dollars each to continue their initiatives. We spoke with students at the winning schools.

GILLMAN: I'm Hannah Gillman, I'm a junior at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, and I'm part of their Green Team. The students at the Collegiate Academy made some recommendations to the faculty and staff and student body to reduce electrical lighting and to replace it with natural lighting and in one year we improved our rating from 23 to 46 and saved about $11,000 and more than 180,000 kilowatts.

GELLERMAN: Just by letting in more natural light?

GILLMAN: Exactly.

GELLERMAN: Wow. That's quite a savings.


GELLERMAN: Well, I understand that the school's going to get $10,000 as part of the award and you've got to use it to further your energy initiatives. Do you have any idea what you're going to use the money for?

GILLMAN: Yes, right now we're actually working on making a garden on the side of our school and we're going to fill it with plants as well as vegetables and herbs and we really want to focus on conserving water, as well, as much as we can.

GELLERMAN: Well, congratulations again. That's terrific.

GILLMAN: Well thank you so much!

(Photo: Michael Wierusz)

EAST: My name is Will Leask and I go to the Secondary Academy for Success in Bothell, Washington and I'm a senior in high school. Recently this year the school installed a new ventilation system that monitors actively the carbon content in the air and it adjusts the ventilation accordingly, which has helped a lot to offset our carbon emissions. We also have a couple kiosks, electronic kiosks, placed around the school. Kids can mess around with them and see what energy usage is going on. One of our projects throughout the year was to make a mobile lab, with which we could take to elementary schools to teach about sustainability. Because one of the things we noticed about public education system in Washington and our district specifically, is that there's a very big lack of sustainable education in the elementary. So what we did is made a trailer, outfitted it with all sorts of interactive displays teaching kids about efficiency and alternative sources of energy as well as policy and how that affects energy usage in the country. We put six solar panels on top of the trailer. With our $10,000 reward what we're going to do is finish up our solar system by buying an inverter and a battery pack.

Students from Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network look at the plans for their new green roof.

PARK: Hi, my name is Rebecca Park. I go to Boston Latin School where I'm a senior. What our school did to win this really came from our after school organization, the Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network. One of the main things that got us this award was our commitment to making our school more energy efficient and more kind of conscious of environmental issues in general. We had an energy audit back several years ago now and we had such a low score that we were really motivated to take action. So we wanted to do not just the kind of small recommendations that they made, so we could do some of those such as turning the lights off in the vending machines and replacing a lot of light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones instead of the traditional incandescent light bulbs.

We also initiated projects of a much larger proportion that would both save energy for our school and also accomplish our educational goals and really engage the community and give opportunities for youth leadership and a different kind of education. We started a green roof project that we've been working on for a couple years now.

GELLERMAN: A green roof project...

PARK: Yes.

GELLERMAN: What is that?

Energy generation in the classroom at Secondary Academy for Success in Bothwell, Washington. (Photo: Mike Wierusz)

PARK: A green roof in the traditional sense might just mean vegetation, it might just mean solar panels, but the green roof that we have proposed and are working on achieving is really an educational space that takes a sample of all different kinds of features. So it does have vegetation, it does have solar panels and wind turbines, and even a rooftop greenhouse. But the real purpose is to be able to educate students from our school and from schools across the city and youths from all organizations across our community really.

GELLERMAN: I understand part of the innovation here had nothing to do with the technology; it had to do with your ability to raise money - fundraisers.

PARK: This is true, yeah. A lot of your time when you're trying to do a project this big does have to go to fundraisers, so we've had to be creative. Especially a lot of the online contents now have kind of a public voting component, so we've done things at school like have a kid in a green bean costume try to get people to vote online.

This mobile cargo trailer was retrofitted by Secondary Academy for Success students to be a mobile lab. It travels to elementary scools to teach sustainability and renewable energy.

GELLERMAN: A kid in a green bean costume?

PARK: Yeah, it was pretty fun.

GELLERMAN: How much money did you raise?

PARK: Over the last couple of years we've raised over $200,000. I'm not sure how much from the green bean episode itself, but we have raised over $200,000 and that's the last three or four years.

GELLERMAN: Boy, that's a lot of green, green beans or otherwise.

PARK: (laughing) Yeah.

GELLERMAN: Well, Rebecca Park of Boston Latin, thank you very much and congratulations again.

PARK: Thank you so much for having us.

GELLERMAN: And congrats to all the winners of the National Environmental Education Foundation's Sustainable Energy Award.



Find out more about the Collegiate Academy Green Team

A story about Northwest PA Collegiate Academy’s energy-efficiency efforts is

Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network

Boston Latin School’s 2012 Energy Scrapbook

Find out more about Boston Latin Schools’ Green Roof project

Sustainable Engineering & Design at Secondary Academy for Success, Bothell, Washington

Learn more about the Sustainable Energy Award


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