Education feature: Students help cut energy costs

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Halli Heath, 10, is a member of one of Mesa Elementary School’s green teams, which monitor classrooms after school for left on lights and computers. They also turn down thermostats in the rooms.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

As the school empties out each day, a select group of students methodically march from one classroom to another turning off lights and computers and turning down thermostats.

Known as green teams, students at Mesa and Zia elementary schools have helped save the Clovis Municipal Schools about $12,000 in energy costs, according to the district’s energy manager Mike Thomson.

Mesa and Zia have incorporated energy conservation into the curriculum as part of the Conservation Altering Students Habits program.

Mesa teachers Doug Schwartz and Callene Zapalac oversee the green teams’ work at the school and hold monthly meetings.

Schwartz said the meetings serve as a time for the students to learn and experiment with alternate energy.

“We worked with solar panels during the last meeting. The kids learned that more panels were needed to power larger objects. They just love it,” he said.

Students must maintain good grades to be on the green teams, the teachers said, and the students take it seriously.

Zapalac said the green team students began taking the energy-saving techniques home.

“We have parents telling us that their child is timing how long they use the hot water in the shower and turning off lights behind them,” she said. “They’ve learned and are trying to teach others.”

Thomson began with the district as the energy manager four years ago. The energy-saving programs he spearheaded have saved the district $989,000 and reduced wattage use by 23 percent, according to school officials.

Thomson said several of the changes made were simple things, such as turning off lights when not in use and turning up thermostats for the night. The district has also implemented other programs to save energy.

“Without the faculty or students being on board, it wouldn’t be successful,” said Thomson, who was named the 2008 Energy Manager of the Year by the New Mexico Association of Energy Engineers in September for his work with the district. “They’re responsible for turning down thermostats and lights when they leave.”

The district has installed skylights to reduce the need for light, xeriscaping and artificial turf to reduce water consumption, timers on vending machines and motion sensor light switches.

Thomson can even control thermostats for a few of the schools from his office, if needed.

And Thomson said the district isn’t stopping there.

“We’re not done. We’re looking to bring renewable sources into our district,” he said.

The district is looking to implement a recycling program with the city and use small wind turbines and solar panels to help power the schools.