Powered by the Sun: Poway School Adopts Solar Energy
Monterey Ridge Elementary in the Poway Unified School District is the newest in a growing list of solar powered schools in San Diego County. KPBS education reporter Ana Tintocalis explains why there
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Monterey Ridge Elementary in the Poway Unified School District is the newest in a growing list of solar powered schools in San Diego County. KPBS education reporter Ana Tintocalis explains why there’s a lot more to this school than just solar panels.
Monterey Ridge is the only school in San Diego County with such a big focus on the environment. In fact, the school’s mascot is the Monarch butterfly, and the school colors are rust and green. But it’s the campus’ huge solar power system that really captivates young minds. More than 20,000 square feet of large black solar panels blanket the hillside behind the campus.
Wu Son : They look really strange to me, but I’m really glad that we’re helping the earth to save non-renewable resources.
Nine-year-old Yung Wu Son compares the solar panels to the leaves of a tree. Principal Rebecca Wardlow says the system is an essential teaching tool at the school. She says even grownups want to learn more.
Wardlow : We get questions all the time about the solar panels. The kids have been absolutely fascinated by them and its something parents are very intrigued by they want to know how much energy we’re producing and using.
The solar panels provide up to 60 percent of the school’s energy needs. Wardlow admits the system was expensive. The price tag is $1.5 million. The district is paying $900,000 of that amount, and a state rebate covers the rest. Poway Unified won’t recoup the expenses for another 15 years.
The expensive project is a major reason why other school districts are reluctant to go solar. But Wardlow believes it’s all worth it for her school. The campus is using clean, renewable energy instead of producing tons of carbon dioxide.
But Wardlow says the biggest payoff is knowing her students are gaining valuable knowledge about renewable energy and energy conservation. Science teachers develop lessons based on how the expansive solar energy system works. Ten-year-old Alexandria Davis.
Davis : You put them in the sun, and they collect the sun, and then they generate it to all the classrooms.
Tintocalis : Oh, so that’s how the lights are able to work? Yeah, you have to use a lot, a lot of solar panels to get 100 percent energy from them.
Students also learn why many scientists believe the greenhouse effect is making the world a warmer place. Teacher Susan Mahoney uses the school’s own pint-size greenhouse to show how plants are affected by good and bad levels of certain gases.
Monterey Ridge’s Solar Power System
• The solar panels provide up to 60 percent of the school’s energy needs
• More than 20,000 square feet of solar panels blanket the hillside behind the campus
• The solar power system cost $1.5 million
• The district is paying $900,000 of that amount, and a state rebate covers the rest
• Poway Unified won’t recoup the expenses for another 15 years
Mahoney : This is actually, if you could imagine, like your own little universe -- you know, with your atmosphere. I mean, here, we can open vents and let out gases, we can circulate the air using a fan. But in the real world, we can’t do that.
Teachers say getting kids to address complex science influences how they treat their surroundings. History teacher Lynn Harvey says it’s important to start them at an early age.
Harvey : They need to know what they need to do as they become adults to make sure that the world is still around, basically. And that they can have these beautiful animals and birds and things to look at, and for their children to be able to see.
Every year, Harvey and her students monitor a pair of endangered falcons through a live webcam. Together they see how weather and humans affect the birds’ survival. Harvey says she and science teacher Susan Mahoney learn alongside their students.
Mahoney : I think it helps the students to see Susan and I as learners, and to know that adults learn too. It’s not just something kids do sitting in the classroom.
And when it comes to global warming, teachers say they don’t get into the doom and gloom of what may happen. Instead, they talk about what young students can do right now to protect our environment. Principal Rebecca Wardlow believes that’s when real learning takes place.
Wardlow : I think the whole theory of global warming is a little advanced for the age of our kids. I think the message we’re working on with our kids is that of conservation. Taking care of our planet, taking care of each other, and taking care of our resources.
This is the first year Monterey Ridge is open to students. Based on its success, the Poway Unified School District may build more solar powered campuses in the near future.
Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.