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New class at WWG High focuses on energy conservation

March 2, 2011
By Jenny Kirk

WALNUT GROVE - A new class at Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School - called Earth Y.E.S.! - encourages students to make a positive difference in the environment around them, including ways to save energy.

Under the direction of WWG teacher Patrick Merrick, 17 students are taking part in Y.E.S. (Youth Energy Summit).

"Last year we did it as an extra-curricular activity," Merrick said. "But the kids thought it was worthwhile enough and petitioned the school board to have it as an environmental science class. The class is about how the humans affect the climate of the Earth. Students learn about a topic, design a project, implement it and then take it to the public."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Teng Yang, left, and Gage Pilaczynski sit in front of an energy-saving display Wednesday they set up at Integrity Bank in Walnut Grove. As one of five yearly projects, members of the Earth Y.E.S.! class from Westbrook-Walnut Grove distributed free home energy-saving kits to people in the community at local businesses.

This year, Y.E.S. students have focused on electricity and recycling. On Wednesday, a number of students - including Teng Yang and Gage Pilaczynski - helped to deliver more than 200 energy-saving kits to four local businesses: Bank Midwest and Maynards Grocery in Westbrook and Integrity Bank and Bubai Grocery in Walnut Grove.

"We're giving out free bags that have a lot of information about saving energy," Yang said. "It comes with a (energy-saving) light bulb."

The kits contained valuable information, including tips to save energy at home, facts about heating and cooling and avoiding "vampire electricity," which is when appliances still draw electricity even though they are shut down or on standby mode.

"We learned a lot," Pilaczynski said. "We work as a team. It's pretty fun."

All of the students helped in some way. Some students helped set up the display areas for the kits, while others handed out kits and answered customer questions. Another group of students were in charge of contacting media or asking business owners for donations.

"We do five major projects a year," Merrick said. "Every time a project is done, we try to make it as close to a real work experience as possible. Publicity was one of the jobs and so was setting up. We'll switch it around for the next project so that everyone cycles through and gets to be in front of the scenes and behind the scenes."

Merrick said that the greatest fear for many of the students is having to talk with other people.

"It's a good marketing tool," Merrick said. "They have to learn to speak in public or to call and ask questions. They learn a lot of practical information, like how to ask for something that is important to you."

The WWG group competes against seven other schools, including Marshall, Redwood Falls, Morgan, Springfield and Windom. As one of approximately 20 Y.E.S. teams in the southwest and west-central Minnesota area, WWG received a $1,500 grant to help cover costs. But the team also relies on support from the community.

"We've been blessed with a lot of donations," he said. "This couldn't have gone off without a lot of community support."

Yang said the team only had one small disappointment while preparing the energy-saving kits.

"We wanted there to be power strips in each bag, but we couldn't get enough people to donate them," Yang said.

Instead, the team included information about how surge protectors could help eliminate vampire electricity and save a household average of $200 per year if used.

"Part of our focus is getting the communities involved," Merrick said. "The kids wanted to put so much in the kit, but we focused on simple solutions. We got a lot of positive feedback."

Earlier projects this year at WWG included a "blackout day," installing vending machine misers and educating elementary students on recycling and saving energy.

"We shut all the lights off on our two campuses," Yang said. "We kept track of how much was spent on lights and the computers, too. The students really liked it and we saved like $20 that day."

Merrick said that the kids were really excited to put in some energy-saving devices at the school.

"We now have misers that will shut off pop machines at night and smart outlets that will shut off everything if the computers forget to be shut off," Merrick said. "It saves on the vampire electricity. It makes the kids feel like they are making a difference, and they are."

Pilaczynski said that a final project has not been decided on yet.

"We'll brainstorm on ideas and then vote on it," he said.

Merrick said that the class would likely be offered again next year.

"We'd like to see even more students participate next year," Merrick said. "The grant allows us to implement a lot of kids' ideas and takes care of a lot of the transportation and project costs."



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