‘Green Team’ sees the light in Salisbury

SALISBURY — Students in many schools have to be reminded to switch off lights as they exit a classroom, or close windows to keep the heat in during the winter.
But at the Salisbury Community School, it’s the students who are providing the energy saving reminders — specifically six 5th-grade students, who under the tutelage of science specialist Amy Clapp have formed what they are calling the “Green Team.” That team is partnering with the Vermont Energy Education Program (VEEP) to perform regular checks of the Salisbury school’s energy consumption and take steps to conserve electricity within the building.
“There are obviously many ways to look at energy,” Clapp said during a gathering of the Green Team last week. “What we have been trying to do is things that they can see what they are doing; it’s not happening out on the (electricity) grid somewhere. It’s happening in the school, and they are connecting it to things they know.”
It all began last summer with an email from VEEP inviting the school to participate in the “Whole School Energy Challenge.” The challenge engages participating school communities in a campaign of best practices in the area of energy conservation. The VEEP office provides the schools with equipment to measure such things as room temperature, electricity use and lighting. Students, with the help of teachers and VEEP officials, record energy consumption readings before and after conservation measures have been implemented. This gives the school an idea of what conservation efforts are working and where the building is in most need of energy-related upgrades.
The Salisbury school is one of 17 schools throughout the state currently participating in VEEP’s energy challenge, which has some lofty goals, Clapp noted. Among them is to reduce each school’s energy use and associated costs by at least 10 percent.
While the goals are lofty, the message of the challenge is pretty basic, according to Clapp: “Become more aware of our energy use as a school, and do things that we can do to help reduce it.”
Clapp asked her 5th-grade class for some Green Team volunteers last fall, and she got six: Kenene Otis, Hannah Cameron, Reese Fitzgerald, Hailey Clark, Wyleigh Austin and Alanna Trudeau. All of them agreed to take on the tasks of meeting at least once per month and regularly recording energy use within the school. Based on their findings, the volunteers also agreed to recommend — and if possible, implement themselves — some practices to reduce energy use in school. Those practices have ranged from posting signs reminding people to turn off the lights when they leave a classroom, to switching off computers and other potential energy drains before weekends and holidays.
Clearly, the Green Teamers’ favorite activities have been using the VEEP tools in recording energy use. Members have enjoyed pointing the infrared thermometers at objects within the classroom to record the temperature within the room. They can then contrast those readings with the temperatures of other classrooms and the outdoors three times during the school day.
Green Teamer Alanna Trudeau has noticed a trend.
“The smaller rooms are hotter than the bigger rooms,” she said.
Students have also taken a close look at classroom lighting, asking if all of the lights within a particular room should be illuminated while it is in use. They have preliminarily found that full illumination (to meet reading conditions) is unfortunately necessary in some of the rooms because the light bulbs are recessed within the ceiling. They theorized that something short of full illumination would be practical if the lights were protruding from the ceiling.
It should also be noted that the school’s classroom lighting functions with motion detectors that were installed to save electricity. If there is no movement within the classroom within a 20-minute span, the lights will shut off. But Clapp and her students noted that the lights can kick on at night as a result of any kind of motion within the unoccupied room — such as the heating system causing a flag to wave. The Green Team has brought that fact to the attention of school officials.
When Salisbury landfill officials reported that some garbage was finding its way into the school’s recycling content, the Green Team did some research on the rules and spelled out through posters what items can and can’t be recycled.
Soon, Green Team members will be using “Kill-A-Watt” devices to measure the pull that electrical appliances within the school have on electricity. This is particularly useful in gauging power that unused, “sleeping” computers might draw during weekends and holidays.
“We are trying to get rid of any phantom power over the breaks,” Clapp said. To that end, students make sure electrical appliances are unplugged and shades are pulled before the school goes into what they call “vacation hibernation.” The Green Teamers said they have enjoyed the attention they have received when making school hibernation adjustments.
“It’s kind of building this buzz — ‘What are they doing?’” Clapp said with a smile.
Salisbury teachers this winter have been trying to reduce their classroom temperatures by 1 degree, in order to conserve power. The school is able to follow, through its power and fuel bills, the extent to which its conservation efforts have made a difference. Which leads to this baffling finding: Energy use at the Salisbury Community School actually increased between the Thanksgivings of 2013 and 2014, in spite of all the conservation efforts.
“It’s not just this Green Team of students scratching their heads, we’ve got (VEEP and school officials) scratching their heads,” Clapp said. “We are trying to figure out what’s going on, because it doesn’t make sense to any of us. We are acting like scientists, analyzing it, trying to figure it out.”
Individual Green Teamers offered different thoughts about their conservation efforts. Some said they are using their newly learned energy savings techniques at home. Others discussed the overall importance of their job.
“We don’t have enough fuel for forever,” Kenene Otis said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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