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Arkansas Students Get Their Hands Dirty in Solar Panel Project

September 9, 2010 - 5:47pm


Wallie Shaw remembers where he got the idea to do a hands-on solar panel project for his Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) students, a school-to-work transition program focused on helping at-risk youth graduate from high school.

“Having been in the military and stationed in Germany, I saw a magazine article about German farmers who install solar panels on the peripheral of their land to help offset costs during the off season,” says Shaw, who has been a JAG teacher at the Lamar School District in Arkansas for the last two years. 


“That was a seed that got planted,” he says.

And last spring, it came to fruition with the help of Recovery Act funds.

A wish is granted

After hearing about a $150,000 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant awarded to the district in 2009, Shaw submitted a proposal for $5,000 to buy four solar panels to put on the school’s technology center.  His goal was to encourage students to get into the green workforce.

By spring of this year, Shaw and his students had ordered the equipment and began assembling the panels, micro-inverters and supporting brackets in his classroom.

With video cameras in hand, the students watched him secure a small, rooftop 880 watt system. 

“It wasn’t really about the small savings. It was about building a knowledge base among the student and the community,” says Shaw, who has been teaching at the district for 17 years in some capacity. “The number one goal in everything we do is to help students find their niche and help them see that there is an emerging green job sector.”

Room for more

The project made such an impact Shaw decided to take it further, writing a grant to get an additional $51,000 in block grant money to install another 10 panels at the school.

But this time, he’s involving the city too.

With the funds, city hall will purchase 45 solar panels to make up a 10 kW system.

Solar JAG Arrary

  • So far, it has produced 356.9 kWh of energy. That’s equivalent to powering 357 computers or over 1,000 light bulbs for one day.

But one thing one won’t change: his students will once again do most of the work. They will also act as community outreach leaders in Lamar.

Because of their new renewable energy experience, the students will attend monthly outreach sessions to inform the public on ways to become more “green,” like tax incentives for solar panel installations and other energy-saving techniques.

“99 percent of the community doesn’t have a clue about green initiatives,” Shaw says.” We can show them ways to cut their electric bills and reduce their carbon footprint.”