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Green Schools Energizing Memphis Area Students

May 6, 2010 - 4:55pm

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Memphis area school students are learning how to become power saving experts and, in a bit of a role reversal, teaching teachers about energy efficiency.

The Memphis Green Schools pilot program shows students how to conduct energy audits and find ways to save power.

“The program is all about teaching students to save money through behavioral change,” says Anthony Wright, project facilitator at Memphis City Schools.

Students put this knowledge to work, forming energy patrols called the Watt Busters and issuing tickets to teachers who don’t switch off the lights or shut down computers when classrooms are empty.”If the teachers left their computers on, guess what? They got cited,” Anthony says.

The program is “an opportunity for student leadership,” says Megan Campion, senior program associate for the Alliance to Save Energy.

Eight Memphis City and Shelby County schools are participating in the program, which was designed by Washington, D.C.-based Alliance and offered by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, Knoxville Utilities Board and Johnson City Power Board.

Since last August, the program has saved a total of $20,758, or 268,915 kWh of electricity, which helps the Memphis school district’s finances.  “We are so burdened in our school district,” Anthony says. A portion of the savings is returned to the schools to support the Green Schools program.

At the beginning of the academic year, teachers, administrators and students from the eight schools took part in workshops hosted by Alliance. The workshops were instrumental in setting up customized energy savings plans for each school. Alliance project managers assist the schools throughout the year, making frequent visits and providing reports on energy usage. 

The nonprofit shows students how to conduct energy audits and implement methods to reduce consumption. “Somebody from the Alliance will do the SEAT [Student Energy Auditor Training],” Megan says. The Tennessee Valley Authority provides the students with tool kits with equipment such as light and watt meters.  Watt meters measure long-term energy consumption of any device and can be plugged into power strips.

Students use the equipment on campus to see where energy is being wasted. “The school building becomes their laboratory,” Anthony says.
Math and science teachers incorporate the program into their curriculum using content provided by Alliance. Megan says, “We have a resource guide full of lesson plans that that are correlated with state standards.”

Although Alliance and the utilities help guide Memphis’ Green Schools program, students are its backbone. “The kids make the recommendations,” Megan says. Students developed energy efficiency publicity campaigns on campus, which included television announcements, bulletin boards and school assemblies.

Anthony says he has received positive feedback from parents about the program and the students are taking what they learned home. “The kids are auditing their own homes.”

Students helped their communities become energy efficient by installing more than 200 compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the Memphis area in September.

“Students are driving the initiative,” Anthony says. He says the students’ commitment to the energy efficiency program has inspired teachers and parents to do their part. “When it comes from the students, there’s a lot more buy in.”

During a midyear Green Schools meeting, students sang songs about energy efficiency, showcased science projects and made presentations on saving energy. “The kids came in and knocked the ball out of the park as far as presentations and what they have learned,” Anthony says.

He says the Green Schools program has helped students understand how energy behaviors affect the planet. “They are learning about how their habits impact our economy and our environment.”

“The kids get it,” he says.

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