Green initiatives are nothing new at Chicago area schools, but
their advancement has taken a new turn. Ecology and recycling
clubs, with newspaper drives and waste-free lunches, have morphed
into sophisticated Energy Ambassador programs where school gardens,
solar power and wind turbines are part of everyday
The traditional three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic are
old school compared to the current mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
As educational access to advanced technology continues, a fourth
"R"-renew-may be in order.
Thanks to grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community
Foundation, solar arrays now grace the rooftops of about 100
Chicago area schools.
"The goal has been to help fund clean, renewable energy and
promote energy efficiency," says Program Officer Gabriela Martin.
The foundation created the Illinois Solar Schools program in 2006,
a model of educational success as students receive hands-on lessons
in renewable energy.
Harnessing the wind's power for electricity is the next
frontier. Currently, only three Chicago metropolitan schools have
Rhodes School in west suburban River Grove was the pioneer when
its 60-foot, 2.4-kilowatt turbine went active on April 9, 2009.
Two other "solar" schools also applied for grants to add wind
power to their renewable energy portfolio. In the far south
suburbs, Hinckley-Big Rock Middle School erected a 45-foot,
2.4-kilowatt turbine in August 2010; Thomas Middle School in
northwest suburban Arlington Heights followed with its own 45-foot,
2.4-kilowatt turbine in September 2010.
In 2011, as a result of the three schools' successes, ICECF
instituted a pilot Wind for Schools program.
"Since wind and solar are very complementary, it made sense to
give pilot preference of wind to those schools with solar panels,"
We take short showers
instead of long, hot baths and we wait until we have a full
large load of laundry before running the washer. The same applies
for our dishwasher as well. With everyone helping out in our
family, we definitely have seen a decrease in our utility bills as
well as helping our environment. If everyone tries to do a little
something to go greener it can definitely go a long way.
What's your school doing to
be more green? Share with us on Facebook
Martin says the electricity generated by wind turbines in a city
environment is small when compared to the downstate turbines seen
in open fields.
Still, the electricity that feeds into the schools' grids is
impressive. The Rhodes School's turbine recently surpassed a
significant 11,000 kilowatt energy hours-enough to power all lights
and electricity in the school's bus garage, plus all 77 computers
in the school's lab. Thomas Middle School's turbine produces
roughly enough to power two classrooms.
At Hinckley-Big Rock Middle School, the turbine can power the
lighting in three science classrooms on a good day.
"The students know the electricity generated won't make a huge
difference at the schools, but they see what it can do at their
house and they know it can offset 25 to 50 percent of the energy
using wind or solar power," says Matt Olson, a science teacher at
Built-in monitoring devices record energy production in action.
"Students and teachers can access data online to compare wind and
solar, not only at their schools but with other schools doing the
same thing," Olson says.
Classes build windmills using different blade designs to test
which generate the most energy. Rhodes' students compare renewable
energy (wind/solar) to fossil fuels, hydro and other energy forms.
Students also can see and track what greenhouse gases are
Curriculum opportunities abound as teachers integrate wind and
solar lessons across a variety of content areas, including
information technology, math and science.
Parents support the program, too.
"There are wind farms near our school, the price of energy is
always in the news and parents are excited since their children are
learning relevant information," Olson says.
Thomas Middle School parent Sandy Van den Avont shares the
"It has provided tremendous classroom opportunities and as a
parent, the turbine is a wonderful conversation starter," she says.
"It gets people talking at home, in the classroom and even at
soccer games as it spins near the fields."
Van den Avont is proud that children today see environmental
responsibility as an obligation.
"Why wouldn't we have a turbine to generate electricity for the
school? Why shouldn't we recycle everything? Thinking about the
earth's future is something we should all be doing every day," her
son, Mark, says.
Lucy Latourette is a writer and mother of two who continues to
remind her children to turn off the lights to conserve energy.
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