Students energize charter school’s future
Tomorrow River Community Charter School (TRCCS) students are leaving their mark on the environment, a mark kind of hidden but one that nonetheless will sustain the earth – and their school community – into the future.
“I think it’s really cool,” third grader Delaney Conner said. “We get to help build something and it’s going to be used and our creations are going to be out there and helping people.
“We’re always going to have a little piece of us here,” she said.
Over a two-day period in April, the students at the charter school – first through fifth graders – in one way or another had a hand in installing a solar electric system at Central Wisconsin Environmental Station (CWES), where their school is located.
The students assisted Mid-State Technical College students with the project, which is part of a collaboration with school systems, community organizations and engaged businesses and is funded by a grant from Constellation Energy Group as part of its “Energy to Educate” grant program.
The $45,000 grant went to Incourage’s Business Education Partnership, a collaboration out of Wood County that includes Mid-State. The Partnership created the “Building Energy Education Pathways” or Project “BEEP” to engage participating schools in energy curriculum and instruction and provide capital projects to demonstrate renewable energy systems.
The TRCCS installation was the 10th conducted at area schools, said Benjamin Nusz, Mid-State Renewable Energy technician instructor.
“For us, it’s the opportunity for our students not just to gain installation experience but also program management, leadership and coaching opportunities,” he said as members of the team worked with students.
Materials, including tools, beams, panels and classroom instructional items, were included as part of the project.
The charter school operates under the Waldorf model, which is an educational philosophy of educating and growing the whole child through movement, art and nature. The approach is development-based, uses a premise of allowing children to use their imagination and creativity, and there is an emphasis on environmental stewardship, so children begin early fostering a care for and understanding of the environment and the world around them.
The solar panel installation fell right into the environmental stewardship portion of the school’s philosophy, and the children – even among the youngest – understand that.
“The solar panels collect energy from the sun, so we have energy so we can have lights on,” first-grader Aurora Nichols said.
First and second graders excavated the area, preparing it for the concrete foundation for the solar panel stands. As part of the experience, students were able to make handprints in the wet cement.
With assistance from the Mid-State students, third through fifth graders followed up on a second day installing the panels, including helping to haul the beams over to be screwed and tightened on so the panels could be placed securely.
“I like how it’s a team effort and we actually get to do work,” third-grader Ilsa Tompkins said. “My (high school) sister did a presentation on solar panels and the steps you use, but she never made one. She did the presentation, but I built it.”
For some students, it was their first experience working with different tools – such as levels, ratchets and bolts – so the third and fourth graders got to learn about concepts like tork and force in rotation. The older students installing the actual panels heard about semi-conductors and electrical concepts.
For the students, it will leave a lasting impression. But more importantly to them, it seems, is what it does for the environment.
“We’ve never done this before,” third-grader Nataleigh Veith said. “It’s cool. We get to work with tools, carry beams.
“It helps our earth,” she said.