By Wayne Dominick
Ask a school board member what he or she thinks of a program that saves the district money, contributes to the curriculum and provides leadership roles for students, and chances are you will get a response similar to Johnson County’s Bruce Davis.
“What’s not to like?” said the first-term member when asked about his district’s participation in KSBA’s School Energy Managers Project. “We expected the program would help us with our energy bills, and it did. What’s been a great surprise are all the other programs that Terry has started.”
Terry Salyer, the school energy manager for the area, works with Johnson County, Lawrence County, Martin County and Paintsville Independent school districts.
PHOTO: Students at Johnson Central Elementary dine by natural light whenever possible since implementing the district’s energy savings program. Principal Steve Young said the large windows let in enough light and the students seem to prefer the atmosphere.
“We probably could have done some of this ourselves,” Davis said. “But I don’t think we would have saved nearly as much money and we wouldn’t have the other things Terry has brought us.”
One of those things is an energy conservation unit that Johnson County has incorporated into its curriculum.
“Energy savings is a perfect fit for Practical Living,” explained Monica Whitaker, who oversees curriculum development for the district. Part of Practical Living is consumerism, she said, and outside of a mortgage payment, energy bills are often a homeowner’s largest expense.
“I’m not sure a lot of kids understand how much of a difference saving energy can make. Thanks to Terry, we can show them how much they can save just by doing the simple things like turning out lights and shutting down computers.”
Whitaker added the energy program also gives students some real-life applications for math and science. “It’s always a plus when we can show how math and science is a part of everyday living.”
Salyer said he hopes to add more to the curriculum. “Right now we’re teaching the high school kids how to do energy audits. They have to learn how to use voltage meters and do a number of tests. Eventually, I’d like to see them going to the middle and elementary schools to teach those students how to do it.”
The audits consist of taking inventory, room by room, of everything that uses electricity in the school. Once completed, the students then determine which items need to be on all the time, which should be powered down at times and which can be eliminated.
Student involvement has helped Johnson County schools save on energy expenses, Salyer said, using volunteers called the Juice Krews who monitor energy use at each school and remind others how they can help.
“We involve students from every grade,” said Johnson Central Elementary Principal Steve Young. “We tried to get a cross section of kids and made sure we included those who aren’t the most outgoing or the best students or athletes. This is a good opportunity for kids like that to be a part of something.”
Johnson Central won the district’s award for having the greatest energy savings during the 2010-11 school year.
Juice Krew members said the big reason for their success was reminding students and staff that the energy savings would help the school.
“At first not everyone was worried about turning off lights every time they left the room, but when we reminded them that the money we saved could be used for books and stuff, they cooperated,” said sixth-grade Krew member Victoria Arms.
Krew members put stickers next to light switches or devices they find left on, reminding the person responsible about saving energy -- and no one is exempt. “I’ve had one or two put in my office,” said Young.
The Krew also puts up stickers when they find compliance. “I think it’s nice that we put up stickers thanking people for helping,” said fifth-grader Charlotte Blevins. “That way they’ll remember to do it again.”
Andrea Curtis has had similar success on the other side of the Commonwealth. The energy management curriculum coordinator for the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative said most of the schools in the 27 districts have put energy saving into some portion of the curriculum.
“We haven’t tried to do a one-size-fits-all program,” Curtis said. Instead, she has worked with each district to find the best fit. Some districts have worked on the consumer aspect, some have incorporated the math and others have concentrated on the science involved in energy savings.
Curtis added that every district has some type of program that involves students being involved in the energy savings program. “The programs vary from students to check for lights left on to teams that plan special events and presentations,” she said.
Board member Davis said as successful as the programs have been, they are just the tip of the iceberg. “These kids are taking home what they’re learning and teaching their families how to save. That makes for a stronger community down the road.”
— Dominick is a writer from Frankfort