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Students from Eagle County work to reduce energy usage

Daily staff report
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Students at Gypsum Creek Middle School test the amount of energy different light bulbs use.
John-Ryan Lockman | Special to the Daily |

AVON — A grant from Vail Resorts Epic Promise has allowed Walking Mountains Science Center to engage Eagle County students in the Eco-Schools program. As part of this program, student leaders help reduce energy use, water consumption and waste to help local schools become more sustainable.

Schools in the U.S. can be big energy consumers and waste producers. According the National Wildlife Federation, “Schools spend more money on energy than textbooks and computers combined, and 30 percent of the energy used in buildings is often used inefficiently or unnecessarily.” For a school district that spends more than $1 million annually on gas and electric bills, even a 10 percent reduction could add up to big savings.

PARTICIPATING SCHOOLS

Currently, the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, Edwards Elementary School, Brush Creek Elementary School, Avon Elementary School, Gypsum Creek Middle School and Stone Creek Charter School all have Eco-Teams working on various energy conservation, water quality, waste reduction and school ground improvement projects.

To accomplish their goals, schools are following the guidelines of an internationally-successful National Wildlife Federation program called Eco-Schools. Eco-Team members start by collecting data about their buildings, including the habits of the students and staff using them. They evaluate the information and generate conservation solutions specifically for their schools. Then they develop, implement and monitor an action plan for improvement. In the process, their schools are transformed into learning laboratories. Students learn building science and gain real-world communication, leadership and citizenship experience.

POWERING DOWN

At Edwards Elementary, students identified energy waste that was happening at the end of the school day. They found that not all lights and electronics were getting turned off and sometimes doors and windows were left open, so they developed a system to help others in the building remember to power down.

“Our Eco-Team has assigned classroom power patrollers who are in charge of shutting down classrooms each afternoon,” said Principal Heidi Hanssen said.

They created a reward system with charts and a certificate of recognition for classroom power patrollers who do their job. The students got permission from the principal, collaborated with custodians, wrote letters to teachers, made announcements over the loud speaker, updated their school bulletin board and wrote articles for the school newsletter.

Their efforts consistently saved the school about 8 percent on their monthly energy bills, saving about $256 over Thanksgiving, winter and February break. They are gearing up to have their best “power down” yet over spring break this April.

‘LITTLE THINGS CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE’

“Two Edwards Elementary School teachers, Katie Leibig and Jeanine Kenney, lead the EES Eco-Team to spread the message to our student body that little things can make a big difference when it comes to energy savings,” Hanssen said.

Surprisingly, this small group of fourth- and fifth-graders is getting results and anyone can track it on a public website administered by a local nonprofit, Clean Energy Economy for the Region. The school’s gas and electric meters are hooked up to a computer that collects energy data at regular intervals and downloads it nightly to the website colorado.buildingenergynavigator.com. The website shows graphs of daily energy use and cost, so the Eco-Team can literally see what savings result from their actions.

Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy is working on several energy projects, water quality monitoring on Cross Creek, recycling and composting. Avon Elementary School focuses on recycling, energy and school gardens. Brush Creek Elementary School and Gypsum Creek Middle School just got started with an emphasis on energy; and Stone Creek Charter School is revamping its recycling program and looking for waste reduction opportunities. All of these schools are well on their way to earning an internationally recognized bronze, silver or green Flag Eco-Schools award from National Wildlife Federation.

This program is made possible by Walking Mountains Science Center’s vision for sustainability in the valley and generous financial support from Epic Promise.

Walking Mountains Eco-Schools coordinator Cindy Tibble is recruiting schools that want to start an Eco-Team and become an Eco-School. If you are interested, contact her at cindyt@walkingmountains.org. It’s a great opportunity to empower students to grow as leaders, apply academic knowledge to solve real-world challenges and move our schools and community toward a greener future.


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