Sixth Graders Are Lighting Up Sand Creek Intermediate With Solar Energy
Writer: Matt Keating
Photography provided by Sand Creek Intermediate & Matt Keating
Sixth graders at Sand Creek Intermediate, 11550 E. 131st Street, Fishers, are lighting up their school. Literally.
Jennifer Suskovich, a sixth-grade teacher, says the school has received grant money to make the building solar friendly, and many of the kids have been so excited about the project they are staying after school to work on it.
She says her students have already begun creating small-scale solar panel prototypes. This will help them understand how the panels would need to move in order to follow the sun. Their completed project will be located on the front lawn of the school grounds.
“The students tested the prototypes’ ability to move towards the sun with a winter and summer sun simulation,” Suskovich says. “After the initial test, students will be required to redesign and test their prototypes after they have made improvements on the initial designs.”
Once the panels arrive and are wired into the building, students from each of Suskovich’s classes are going to manually move the panels each hour and document and record the angle of measurement and locations of the panels and record the location of the sun in the sky.
“This will give them a better understanding of the daily and seasonal movements of the sun,” Suskovich says. “These hands-on activities and studies will cover the Indiana State Science Standard Design Models to describe how Earth’s rotation, revolution, tilt and interaction with the sun and moon cause seasons and changes in daylight hours.”
Suskovich says that as Sand Creek students gain an understanding on how the panels have to move to receive the maximum amount of sunlight to power the classrooms, students will begin designing a solar tracking system to move the panels.
“Students are currently researching online resources to obtain a better understanding of how the solar tracking systems work,” Suskovich says. “We also have a contract at Indiana Municipal Power Agency, a company that has built 13 solar panels in communities across Indiana.”
The solar activities will also provide Suskovich’s students with a four-month real-world study of all four components of STEM. It will also include an art component.
“This project will challenge students to use their science-based knowledge on the daily/seasonal solar movements to find the ideal location to place solar panels and increase the amount of time our class is powered by solar energy,” Suskovich says. “Finally, students will collaborate with the art department to ensure that the designs for the solar panel tracking systems are aesthetically pleasing on our school grounds.”
Suskovich says her first grant was awarded in November. “Our class received $1,192 through The Hamilton Southeastern Schools Foundation Zimmerman/Moeller Fund,” Suskovich says. “The second grant we received in the middle of November was a PPG worth $1,000.”
Suskovich and school staff members have begun the purchasing process for the monies awarded from the first two grants.
“We are buying nine Sun King Home 120 Solar Lamp System kits with three lamps,” Suskovich says. “This will provide us with nine solar panels and 27 lamps, which will light two classrooms. We will compare the amount of time both of our classes are powered by solar power using the two different brands of solar lamp system kits.
“At the beginning of January, we were selected for ‘The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant,’ worth $4,000,” Suskovich adds. “I am currently completing ‘The Toshiba America Foundation’ Grant for $48,000 in hopes that I can use both grants to continue to convert more of the classrooms in Sand Creek Intermediate to solar energy.”
In addition to helping the environment, Suskovich says the project will also have an economic effect on the school district.
“The energy bill is the second largest budget item for HSE schools,” Suskovich says. “Our utility bill is the second largest budget item for HSE schools. Our utility bill is paid out of the general fund. This means that if we reduce our utility bill, we will have more money to put back into our children’s education.”
The project should be completed by May, and Suskovich hopes the visibility of the project on the school’s front lawn will start conversations and encourage others in the district to also consider converting their classrooms to solar energy and serve as a pilot program for others.
“Energy conservation in a quickly growing community is one of the challenges we face in Fishers,” Suskovich says. “The need for local businesses to use alternative, clean energy systems is important to our environment.”