by Cori Hilsgen
Students at Kennedy Community School recently experienced a double blackout day.
A blackout day had been planned by the eighth-grade Youth Energy Summit team to try to conserve energy on May 16. Interestingly, a contractor cut a wire to Stearns Electric Co.’s electrical power to areas of St. Joseph on the same day.
Rick Wilson is the seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Kennedy. He is also the advisor for the summit team, the first one at Kennedy.
Throughout the school year, students have been busy trying to determine ways to save energy. An all-school recycling survey was taken to identify areas that could be improved, and a hydration station was installed to save on the use of water bottles.
On blackout day, the entire school of 760 students and about 100 full- and part-time staff participated. All lights, except emergency lighting, were turned off and a cold lunch had been planned by nutrition services.
All unnecessary electronics were turned off, and computers were used only by office staff. Many teachers spent time outside with their students and did not use smart boards, laptops, ipads or iPods.
Wilson said Kennedy school has really embraced the idea of outdoor education, and many teachers bring their students outside on a regular basis.
“The students at Kennedy are getting an education they very well may not receive at another school,” Wilson said. “We have a unique situation where we have a beautiful outdoor space for students to learn from and enjoy.”
When the power was cut by Stearns Electric, Wilson said he was outside performing an experiment with eighth-grade science students, so he did not even realize the electricity had been turned off.
The power outage occurred in the middle of the school’s lunch service. First cook Maxine Pogatshnik had already planned to help with the blackout day by having her staff prepare and serve bag lunches to reduce their power consumption.
Wilson said if a regular lunch service had been planned, the discontinuation of electricity would have caused many problems.
Students barely noticed the interruption of electricity because teachers were not using it. Several fourth-grade students commented on the blackout day.
“There was really no difference from when the lights were off because it was bright out,” Paige Cox said.
“It was kind of a coincidence a power line was cut on blackout day,” Evelyn Ethan said.
“About half the people in the school were not even aware the power was out,” Sam Brewer said.
“It was so sunny out the sun in the windows was like light bulbs,” Jackson Doty said.
Wilson said the purpose of the blackout day was to help students understand energy conservation.
“We are going to look at the data and see how we did,” Wilson said. “After that, we are going (to) look at the variables throughout the day and determine where we can improve. We would like this to be at least an annual event.”
One conservation improvement the school has made is already showing success. The hydration system add-on for water fountains is a place where students can refill their water bottles with filtered water instead of buying plastic water bottles. The station was installed on Feb. 14, and Kennedy has saved the use of 4,977 water bottles since that date.
Students at Kennedy are excited about what has been done to help with energy conservation and are noticing areas they can look at next year. Teachers are advocating for the event to be planned earlier in the school year so things like needing to use the computers for testing dates or other things can be avoided.
“I expect to see overall improvement on energy savings next time,” Wilson said.