By Julie Rasicot
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Sixth-grader Sophie Chang stood in front of a computer monitor near a teacher's desk in a darkened classroom at Julius West Middle School in Rockville.
"Yeah, it's not off. That's not good," she said, flicking off the power switch and making a note on a sheet of paper.
But the lights were off and the blinds and windows closed, so she gave Room 126 a score of three points out of a possible four on a report card issued by the school's Green Team, an after-school club dedicated to promoting energy conservation among students and staff members.
Chang and fellow members of the Green Team, which meets Wednesdays, were conducting one of their regular spot-checks to find out whether teachers were taking some simple steps to conserve energy.
"Let's see if the teachers are any more efficient than they were before winter break," Green Team sponsor and science teacher Nancy Dorne said before the students, armed with report cards that they would tape to classroom doors, fanned through the hallways.
As the classrooms were being checked, about two dozen other team members collected paper, bottles and cans for recycling from blue bins outside classroom doors.
The team at Julius West is among 42 Green Teams at county middle and high schools, all organized under the school system's Green Schools program, which promotes efficient and responsible energy use, program manager Karen Anderson said.
Schools must apply to be part of the program; those that are accepted are given tools, such as light meters and infrared temperature guns, to measure energy use. Schools compete for annual awards of up to $5,000 based on a percentage of energy savings. During the 2006-07 school year, Julius West received $3,400. Four middle and four high schools received $5,000: Winston Churchill High School in Potomac; James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring; Damascus High School; John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring; Kingsview Middle School in Germantown; North Bethesda Middle School; Silver Spring International Middle School; and Tilden Middle School in Rockville,
Last year, the school system saved $1.2 million in electricity costs through conservation measures implemented by Green Teams, said Anderson, who initiated the Green Schools program five years ago.
"Electricity is our most expensive fuel, and [conservation measures] can make a huge difference here," she said.
Anderson said that the measurement tools help students and staff members understand the concept of energy, which can be difficult to grasp because it isn't tangible. "But if you can measure it, it suddenly becomes real," she said.
Green teams focus on conserving energy by promoting actions such as turning off lights and computers when not in use. With the help of teams, some schools have reduced the amount of fluorescent lighting and replaced bulbs with more efficient ones.
Teachers have been given desk lamps for classrooms and offices if they pledge to turn off overhead lights for two or more hours each day. The teams also have encouraged staff to help reduce "plug-in" electricity loads by removing mini-refrigerators and microwaves from classrooms, Anderson said.
The Julius West Green Team used some of its award money to buy some desk lamps; schools are required to spend award money on promoting environmental education.
Sherwood High School's Green Team discovered how it can make a difference in the Sandy Spring's school's energy use through a project that collected data on classroom temperatures in November. The team was looking for ways to reduce energy consumption through climate control.
Team members Lindsay Blank, a junior, and Lexi Evans, a sophomore, presented the results last week during the Green Schools program's mid-year meeting in Rockville, attended by about 100 team members and sponsors from several county schools.
The team members found that Sherwood's hottest room was 97 degrees and the coldest was 67 degrees. Only seven rooms were found to be below 70 degrees; the preferred temperature range is 68 to 72 degrees, the students said.
The team published their results in the school newspaper and contacted building services staff members. Within three days, classroom temperatures were adjusted, the students reported.
"It was definitely a thing that hit home," Evans said of the team's project after the presentation.
"My English class was so hot, you'd walk in and start sweating," Blank added.
Clarksburg High School senior Neeti Goel told the group at the mid-year meeting that she wasn't disheartened about the failure of her project to convince students not to drive their cars to school. The aim of the project, "Cut out CO2," was to help reduce greenhouse gases by persuading students to use mass transit.
"Actually, I found out that it was a very difficult task to do," Goel said, explaining that no students participated in a week-long trial. Goel has decided to focus on promoting alternatives, such as carpooling and changing driving habits, as a way to reduce greenhouse gases.
"The youth of today can really help make a difference in their small grass-roots efforts," Goel said.
Students at Takoma Park Middle School also presented their team's strategies for conserving energy, including making light switch covers and posters that remind others to turn off lights and using morning announcements to provide "green tips."
"People are taking it more seriously," sixth-grader Aberham Berhanu said. "People are learning."