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Featured Case Study: January 2012

Students at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School spearhead an effort to save energy and green their campus

In September 2010 Kate Crosby, Energy Advisor for the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, brought together a group of students at the local high school who were interested in understanding energy conservation. On several Saturday mornings, Kate and the students walked through the school and used Kill-a-Watt meters to assess energy use in the building. Their goal was to gather basic information about how much electricity was being used by plug-in devices in the school, data that no one in the district had at that time.

Based on the data, students spent the rest of the school year creating a “Power Down Project” aimed at reducing energy use at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School. Inspiration for the project came directly from the team’s determination to embrace energy conservation. During the initial investigation of energy use at the school, one student sent Kate an email saying that she could not stop thinking about energy conservation and wanted to get serious about it. Another student spoke to Kate about a light that was bothering her because it was always on and had no apparent off switch. Still other students drew attention to a computer lab that was running 24/7. Together the students gained awareness and initiated several projects under the banner of the Power Down Project, including:

Power Down Fridays – Students designed and made colorful door tags to hang on classroom and office doors to remind staff to power down equipment on Friday afternoons. In addition, students wrote emails that went out to all staff, created posters and contributed morning announcements to help promote powering down on Fridays.

Classroom Audits – Students did weekend audits of every classroom and office and left hand-written notes for teachers and staff with tips and advice for reducing their energy consumption. These audits were conducted three times over the school year, with steady improvement in the number of rooms that were successfully powered down.

Light Bulb Exchange – Students set up a table in the lobby of the school and for two days gave out energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs in exchange for incandescent bulbs currently in use at the school. The students worked with teachers and staff to exchange 110 light bulbs, which resulted in $1,000 a year in energy savings.

By the end of the school year, electricity consumption at the school was down by 5.5% which resulted in a savings of $33,000 for the school. The school’s ability to save this much money through energy conservation garnered a phenomenal response from faculty and staff for a campaign powered by students.

In the spring of 2011, one of the student leaders of the group spoke with Kate and expressed her desire to tie together all of the clubs and projects going on around the school that had to do with the environment. Kate was interested in connecting the Power Down Project with a network of other schools working on similar issues. So the team researched green school programs and came across the Eco-Schools USA program. They felt it was a really good fit, and found the international component of the program, including the ability to connect with schools in other countries, very appealing.

Over the summer, students met with Kate to review the Eco-Schools program. At two meetings just ahead of the start of school in late August 2011, students discussed what they would need to do to become an Eco-School and work towards an award. They decided that they wanted to go for it. When the school year started, they established a new Green Council. This organization at the high school brings together groups of students engaged in a variety of clubs, from the Recycling Club, to the Envirothon Team, to, of course, the Power Down Project to focus on green projects throughout the school. Teachers, staff and community members have also joined the Green Council.

Thirty-eight people attended the Green Council’s first meeting. Twenty-two of the attendees were students; the rest of the meeting was made up of community members and school staff. So far this year, the Green Council has been working on implementing the Eco-Schools USA audit and developing their action plans. Ultimately they are looking to apply for a Green Flag award through the Eco-Schools USA program this spring!

Click here to learn more about Acton-Boxborough Regional High School’s sustainability initiatives.

Click here to read Kate Crosby’s guest blog on NWF’s Wildlife Promise where she highlights the school’s very successful (and fun) trash audit party.


Featured Case Study: December 2011

Arlington Independent School District Conserves Energy and Saves Money

In Arlington, Texas, the Arlington Independent School District is saving in more ways than one. Faced with state budget cuts last year, they decided to make every effort to conserve funds, and conserving energy was one way to accomplish that goal. The result has been not only significant financial savings, but the beginning of a new green culture throughout the district.

Budgeted to spend over $15 million on utilities this year for its 74 campuses, Arlington ISD is finding that little changes can add up to big savings. The “Turn It Off” campaign emphasizes the importance of flipping the switch. Turning off classroom lights for an hour when they’re not needed results in $25 saved. Shutting down all computers at night (instead of just putting them in “sleep” mode) adds up to $30,000 saved. During the previous school year, the district saved over $280,000 during just Thanksgiving, winter, and spring breaks alone, simply by ensuring that energy use was cut to minimum levels.The district has a large team working to make this happen. Jennifer Duplessis is the district’s Energy Manager and is responsible for overseeing the program. “We have energy committees for each school,” she explains. “A representative from each campus rolls this out in their school.” This means that principals, teachers, and staff are all involved in making the campaign successful. Based on pledges made by staff to take energy-saving actions, schools can calculate the savings they expect to realize.

The next step is getting the students on board. A competition is now underway to do just that. Between November and March, schools will compete to see which ones can save the largest percentage of their own previous year’s energy usage. One school in each of the district’s six clusters will win the title of Energy Saving Spotlight School and the honor of flying a special flag.

Students are already finding creative ways to inspire their peers and teachers to get in the spirit. The Environmental Club at Seguin High School has put up signs near light switches that say, “You're bright ... so turn off the light!” At Williams Elementary, students hung posters around the school that read, “Flip It or Ticket.” Members of Williams’ Watt Watchers team check for lights or projectors left on in empty rooms. They also leave positive notes when they spot energy-saving measures in action.What advice does Duplessis have for other Eco-Schools beginning a campaign or project? “Try to get as many different people involved as you can. Plugging in at every level leads to more success. Just get started doing something with what you have now, as soon as you can!”

Read more about Arlington Independent School District’s energy conservation work here, and see a news story about the effort here.

Featured Case Study: November 2010

Wolves and Water in Walnut - Eco-Schools USA Helps Students Green California’s Suzanne Middle School

Whether by recycling reading glasses, sponsoring a wolf, or promoting drought tolerant landscaping, the students of Suzanne Middle School (SMS) are creatively making a difference in their Southern California community.

SMS is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut and is a member of Eco-Schools USA, an international program hosted in the United States by the National Wildlife Federation. This green schools program provides a free framework for students and teachers who want to implement cost- and energy-saving projects at their school.

SMS social studies teacher Alan Haskvitz is one of several teachers at the middle school who want to show that the Eco-Schools program helps engage students in hands-on, cost-saving projects that cut carbon emissions, green school grounds, and connect students to the community.

“A lot of schools, if they just look around, will see so many ways to save both energy and money. We’ve saved $5,000 alone this school year on electric costs thanks to the efforts of the staff and the principal, Les Ojeda. If other schools want to emulate this, it’s really not hard to do,” said Haskvitz, a National Hall of Fame educator and 25-year veteran of the distinguished California school.

Reducing Energy Consumption at School
The school reduced energy consumption by 15 percent this year, achieved by shutting off lights, using in-house developed computer shutdown software, closing doors to conserve hot or cool air, and shutting down the school’s air conditioning and heating 15 minutes after the school day ends.

Another positive force for the 1,500 students at the school is the popular Conservation Club which is in its fifth year of service to the school and the community. The teacher-advisors to the club include Steve Cusson, Jennifer Carr, E.J. Gautreau, and Ramona Talampas.

The club has 90 members from the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades who volunteer their time once a week in the school-wide recycling program. Paper collection containers are in every classroom and bins for bottles and cans are placed throughout the school. The students collect and sort the recyclables and the advisers transport the waste to recycling facilities. A classroom recycling competition is held each year to bring awareness to the program.

Each year, Conservation Club members do a variety of community projects including local park clean-up and restoration of native plants, beach clean-up, and removal of non-native plants at the Santa Fe Dam conservation area. The funds are used to defray the costs of wildlife speakers, assemblies, and transportation needs.

Making a Difference in the Walnut Community
As well as beverage containers, eyeglasses, and paper, the school works with the city of Walnut and its residents to recycle empty printing cartridges and have developed an innovative way to save on the amount of waste at the school by collecting the paper food trays used at lunch. This idea came from a student based on aspects of the Eco-Schools USA program.

The school uses some of the funds raised by recycling to sponsor a teenage wolf at Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in Lucerne Valley, located about an hour and a half northeast of Walnut. Apparently Denali, the school’s wolf (pictured above!), is hopelessly clumsy and the funds raised by students go directly to Denali’s “wolf lessons”, as Haskvitz calls them. The school also has a Wolf 527 Wildlife Club, named in honor of the Yellowstone wolf that was killed last year despite wearing a radio collar.

School Garden
The youth have also developed a demonstration school garden by way of a design contest, which helped integrate math, economics and geography into their lessons. The Walnut Valley Water District chose the most sustainable design, and the students planted their garden with drought-tolerant, native vegetation. The water district also helped put in a system that uses recycled water for irrigation and a drip system.

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