THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE - The Explorer: Import

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE

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Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2003 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

There is a small, determined group of young environmentalists at the end of the sixth-grade hall at Wilson K-8 School, and they've put the school's teachers on notice: Turn off your room lights or get carded.

"If they are out of the room and their lights are on, they get a yellow tag on their door," explained sixth-grader Rachel Held, holding up a clipboard with energy facts and tags affixed to it. "If they do it again the next day, they get a red tag. We give them green if they are teaching with only one light on or both lights off, and blue if they are in the room with both their lights on, and we leave a note asking them to only use one light."

Held is one of 30 Energy Patrollers at Wilson, 2330 Glover Road. Over the past two months, in groups of three, during alternating lunch periods, the students - all members of the middle-school student council - have policed the sixth, seventh and eighth grade hallways looking to tag "energy wasters."

"We're doing it to save energy and to raise money for the school," said Sheidi Berumen, a seventh-grader. "We get 15 percent of the money we save, or something like that."

Actually, according to Doug Aho, Amphi Public Schools executive manager of operational support, schools who save anything over 15 percent of their annual kilowatt usage will be given the money over that amount, with half of it going to the custodians and half going to the building principal for school operations.

In other words, if there is an energy reduction of 20 percent from last year to this year, Aho said, the school would get the funds representing the 5 percent savings over the 15 percent baseline and 2.5 percent would go to custodian funds and 2.5 to the building principal.

"We have to do it this way to get the custodians on board because otherwise people can work very hard during the day and then have it all ruined by the night workers who don't turn off lights or turn up the AC," said Aho. He added that building trade magazines and the electric company say that the two biggest energy users are air conditioning and lighting.

"This is about awareness," he said. "Isn't it great that the kids at Wilson are doing such a good job getting people to understand the problem?"

The brainchild behind Energy Patrollers is sixth-grade teacher Vanessa Hill. When she heard Aho's plan to give money back to schools that save energy, she and her team-teaching partner, Teresa Fritton, decided to have Doug Crockett, a natural resources specialist with the Tucson Unified School District, come speak to their students about the Energy Patrollers program.

"We learned that just turning off one of the light switches in the classroom saves up to one-third of the energy normally used," said Kim Didra, a seventh-grade patroller.

All the classrooms at Wilson have two sets of florescent lights in the room and patrollers encourage the teachers to teach with only one set of lights turned on, "or even better, with no lights at all," said Rachel. "Miss Hill hardly ever uses lights."

The Energy Patrollers program lasts eight weeks, said Hill, with the patrollers tagging teachers for four weeks, stopping for two, then doing it again for two weeks.

"We hope by then the teachers have figured out what they are supposed to do," she said.

Last week was the end of the middle-school patrollers program and the older kids began teaching children in the elementary wing of the school how to run the program. Those students will patrol the kindergarten through fifth-grade halls during lunch periods until school ends, trying to educate the teachers in those wings about energy savings.

Hill said it is estimated the school might be able to save up to $50,000 annually just by teaching without lights on or reducing the time the lights are on in each classroom.

Aho said energy usage at Wilson last July alone was $15,000, adding that he is currently comparing energy usage from last year to this year at all the schools to determine how much money is being saved by making a concerted effort to economize.

The patrollers said all the teachers like the system, except for the art teacher who, Hill explained, "needs both her lights on because they are working with color and shading in that class."

Energy Patrollers isn't the only environmental effort at Wilson. Fritton also has single-handedly put Wilson's notoriously long "Notes Home" on an e-mail list serve, so the printed copies of the notes home - running anywhere from five to 14 pages long - have decreased from 1,230 to 500 copies.

"I started asking to do this two years ago and was told by the administration that it couldn't be done," said Fritton. "But persistence pays off - I just kept asking and they eventually let me do it; I think just so they wouldn't have to listen to me anymore."

The two teachers also have "scratch-paper cubbies" where they recycle all their one-sided worksheets and the students know to save anything and everything that can be reused, Fritton said.

Aho said Wilson would be the pilot site for the district's recycling program next year, as a direct result of Hill's efforts to get grant money. Wal-Mart awarded Hill a check for $1,000 April 22 to be used to help set up the recycling program in the fall.

"We want to have a recycling dumpster at the back of the school and recycling bins in every classroom," Hill said. "All of this is something the kids have been in on and they are excited about it."

Amanda Finkelstein, a Wilson sixth-grader, said she's learned a lot from being an Energy Patroller.

"It feels good to save electricity and be good to the environment," Amanda said. "Now I always turn off my computer before I go to sleep and I make sure all the lights are turned off in the house."

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