WV Grant provides Solar Power
The sun is powering cell phones and Chromebooks of students at Waubonsie Valley High School.
Four outlets in a seating area outside the school cafeteria are connected to solar panels on the roof of the Aurora school, allowing students to charge their devices via sunshine.
The idea to tap into the renewable energy source started as a class project and eventually was funded by a $15,800 grant from the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation.
Science teacher Pam Westfall said students in a physics class were cooking food using solar energy several years ago when they noticed the solar panels on a section of the school’s southern-facing roof.
One of those students, Joseph Massey, a 2017 Waubonsie grad, said after talking with school administrators and facility officials, he and his classmates learned the panels had no purpose.
We knew the solar panels on the roof weren’t being used,” Joseph said. He and his classmates researched what could be done.
Spencer Weiland, also a 2017 grad, said he spent a lot of time talking to electricians and engineers.
Because the solar panels were built in the early 2000’s, much of the technology now is obsolete. He said trying to figure out how they work was a challenge.
“They don’t make these anymore,” Spencer said. “There were weird phone calls to Europe (to get information).”
Waubonsie Valley Principal Jason Stipp said despite the difficulties, the students “worked and figured it all out.”
But they needed help getting their project funded, and Westfall stepped in to help shepherd a grant application to the foundation.
Westfall said she was unsure if she should ask for the full amount because it far exceeded the typical request.
Former foundation board chairman Kent Duncan said he was surprised to hear the solar panels weren’t functional.
He was working for BP when his company provided the $100,000 needed to install the solar energy collectors in 2003. The electricity generated was used to power the school.
Duncan said over the years, technology changed and the archaic panels lost their purpose.
When Duncan heard students were behind the grant request, his goal was to get the project fully funded, he said.
“It’s a credit to the students. It wasn’t something initiated by the staff; it was initiated by students,” Duncan said.
The fact the students were able to figure out how the solar panels work and how to connect them to the charging stations is a testament to their tenacity, he added.
The $15,800 grant was boosted by a $10,000 gift to the foundation for the students’ project from Kathryn Birkett, the former District 204 superintendent who began her 35-year career in education at Waubonsie Valley.
“I started my career here. It kind of goes full circle,” she said.
“It’s all about the kids. It’s always been about the kids for me,” Birkett said. “It’s a reality today because of their initiative.”
Other students involved in the project were 2017 graduates Andrew Hubler, Julia Strahan, Cole Phillips, Calvin Ringenbach and Michael Scalgione and current seniors Maahi Shah, Madison Kemerling and Jourdan Penn.
Westfall said students like the ability to plug into green energy.
“I think already we’ve seen kids use this,” Stipp said.
By Suzanne Baker
March 15, 2018