A group of sixth grade students in Chevy Chase who spent a month building a small solar-heated home to study, learned an additional lesson after vandals damaged their project.
"Now I understand what it means to have something you've worked on destroyed," said Cyrus Stacey, a student at Murch Elementary School at 36th and Ellicott streets NW.
"I am sort of mad," said 11-year-old David Mays. "We put all of our time into the project, even weekends, and now it seems like a waste of time."
Murch students are still upset, although damage to the project has been repaired. School officials, who said they have an idea who vandalized the project, added that they do not intend to pursue the matter further.
Beginning last November, students in Murch's program for talented and gifted students decided to build a small plywood model home, slightly larger than a dog house, and to heat it using solar energy.
With the help of their teacher, Mary Jackson, and her husband, Pierce, an engineer with Pepco, the students completed the project at the beginning of December and began recording temperature readings.
During Christmas vacation the small white plywood house, with thermal windows and Styrofoam insulation, stood in the parking lot of the school. It was then that vandals broke the windows, stole thermometers and ransacked the interior of the house.
Jackson, who spent more than $100 of her own money to finance the project, has spent an additional $50 for repairs. She said the complete cost of the project is more than $250. Some of the funding was provided by the Home and School Association.
"It was really a senseless act," said Jackson, who began teaching the talented and gifted program at Murch this school year.
The project has been a success despite the vandalism, said Lydia Thornton, Murch principal. "I love it. I believe in taking an idea off the page and making it alive for the children."
In this affluent neighborhood, according to Mary Jackson, "These students are two years above their normal reading level and they have worked hard on this project."
The group of 12 students learned how to use tools and to correctly measure with rulers, she said, as well as the basic principles of solar energy.
Student Stephanie Schwartz, for example, learned the importance of caulking: "It holds things together and helps keep the wind out."
When the students were asked why the solar collector on the model home's roof made the inside temperature of the home 20 degrees warmer than the outside temperature, they all had answers.
Mays explained the principle of their solar project. He said heat from sunlight is collected on a metal plate. The heat is then intensified by small tin conductors attached to the plate and a fan inside the home blows the heat throughout the structure. "You would be surprised how warm it gets inside the house," he added.
Next year, Jackson said, she hopes her students will build storage tanks for the energy collected by the solar house. "It will just be a matter of getting students interested and finding the money for the project," she said.