Mary Hogan wins solar array in “Way to Go!” competition

MIDDLEBURY — “Way to go” is a compliment one might not hear that often — unless you’re a student at elementary schools in Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes.
Mary Hogan and Bristol Elementary students placed second and third, respectively, out of 76 schools that competed in this year’s Way to Go! Challenge, a voluntary, incentive-based, recognition program to help students adopt healthier and more environmentally sensitive transportation habits. Schools are awarded points based on their Way to Go! activities during the academic year.
Vergennes Union Elementary finished a respectable 17th in this year’s competition, which featured participation from 24,061 students.
Top-placing schools and students win more than just bragging rights.
Mary Hogan Elementary, with its best-ever finish, accrued 735 challenge points, which translated into several entries into a raffle with grand prizes. That’s how the school won its AllEarth Renewables “PowerFlower” — a 2,000-watt solar array, which during its lifetime will produce more than $20,000 of clean, renewable electricity for the school.
Bristol Elementary received special recognition for its “human powered parade” held on May 11. The school mustered 635 points.
This year’s challenge winner was Windsor, which received the coveted “Carbon Cup” trophy.
Individual students qualified for extra prizes for the rewards points they piled up during the challenge. For example, participating students earned 20 points for days in which they carpooled to school with other families, or if they biked or walked to campus. They received 50 points for developing a “safe routes to school” travel plan. Those points can be redeemed for reflective stickers, temporary tattoos, reflective bracelets, or bike helmets and bike racks.
The more points earned, the more entries for the big raffle.
Schools also received individual recognitions for such accomplishments as having the highest percentage of students participating in a “ride the bus day”; highest percentage of students, staff and teachers participating in a “walk/roll or bike to school event”; and the “best participation story.”
Middlebury Energy Coordinator Laura Asermily has been the driving force behind Mary Hogan Elementary’s annual Way To Go! effort. She’s been known to dress up in a bright yellow banana suit to help rally students during their carpooling, biking and walking rituals.
“I think all of this would not be possible without Laura’s efforts,” said Mary Hogan interim Principal Steve Lindemann. “She’s gotten the parents and a lot of volunteers involved. She’s so passionate about it.”
The volunteer efforts are making a difference
“Students love our ‘Walk and Roll Days’ and beg for ‘Bike Week’ each April in PE classes to be longer,” Asermily said. “We thank students for riding their buses and ask them if they walked to their bus stops. The idea is to break the habit of being dropped off right in front of school. We remind students to tell their families to drop them off at more remote lots like Shaw’s (Supermarket) or the (Memorial) Sports Center and walk in from there.”
Mary Hogan has been a Way to Go! contestant since its inception and has consistently been a top-five finisher. The competition has instilled an environmental ethos in local children that can be seen every day. The students have fun doing something that is healthy and “green,” and tend to maintain those positive practices as they get older, organizers said.
“We see full bike racks at our schools and more and more Middlebury residents trying cargo bikes and electric assist bikes and becoming one-car families,” Asermily said. “Thanks to our state mobility partners, we can give even more families a chance to head in this direction with our pilot ‘Book a Bike’ program this month and will pursue other green transportation solutions as we navigate a massive (downtown Middlebury) rail bridges construction project peaking next year.”
Parents and teachers, as well as students, are buying in, according to Asermily.
Incoming Mary Hogan Principal Jen Kravitz and her husband Eric Remsen are both ardent supporters of Way To Go!
Educator Julie Berg’s classes consistently win the Golden Shoe Award that recognizes classes with the most participation in Walk & Roll to School day during October and May.
Ilsley Public Library Youth Services Director Tricia Allen leads a “walking school bus” from South Village and totes books by bike during the summer.
Children are taught the rules of the road and safe walking/biking practices during their journeys.
“We have a number of parents who escort children by foot and bike,” Asermily said. “Our cheerful crossing guard Donna Woods celebrates and monitors participation.”
Mary Hogan officials have yet to decide on a location for the solar PowerFlower. Along with offsetting some of the school’s electricity, it will become a teaching tool.
“We will be the first in the state to have one,” Asermily noted, adding AllEarth Renewables designed the ground-mounted array to be aesthetically pleasing.
Some of the county’s Way To Go! participants attended a special awards ceremony held at the Vermont Statehouse on June 5.
Asermily was there.
And, of course, she carpooled.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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