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Rosa Parks School Tries Going Solar

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 25, 2007

Rosa Parks Elementary School went solar for a couple of days earlier this month. 

Students went around classrooms, playgrounds and the school track racing solar cars, designing solar homes and eating s’mores cooked in solar ovens on May 11 and showed off their handiwork to proud parents at the Solar Fair held at the school’s annual carnival the next day. 

The fair was organized to honor a PG&E grant that was awarded to the school last fall to install a solar collector in the yard. 

“Rosa Parks was the only school in the Berkeley Unified School District to get this grant,” said Suzanne Ingley, the school’s enthusiastic science teacher.  

“The collector is a nine-foot-tall pole that holds a large photo-voltaic (PV) solar cell which is going to offset some of the electricity used by non-renewable resources. The neat thing about this is we are hooked in to all the other schools in California which have similar collectors. As a result, we get to track how the sun is affected by different geographies in different parts of the state.” 

After Ingley filled out an application from the PG&E/National Energy Education Development Project (NEED) project, the school received a $5,000 grant for the fair. 

She then started looking at state standards and sorted out projects which would best meet the needs of the students in each grade. 

“Each staff member took on a solar energy project for their class,” she said while conducting a workshop inside the science lab. “It united the whole school in a way that’s never been done before. Today the entire school took part to watch each of the classes present their work. Since we are an Environmental Magnet School, we want to make a statement about going toward using solar energy.” 

As the fourth-graders got their mini solar cars out on the track to race them on Friday, curious first- and second-graders gathered around to talk about circuits, electricity and resources. 

Ten-year-old Tiffany Zhau made her way to the science workshop to glue up a piece of easel wood that had come loose from her model. 

“It’s kind of working right now, but I want to make it better,” she said. “I want to win the race tomorrow, but it all depends on the sun.” 

The students soldered the wires from the PV cell and the motor together to build a circuit for the solar car. 

“The fourth-grade curriculum teaches kids to build electric circuits and parallel and series wiring,” said Ingley. “This little lesson show them that they can create electrical energy from the sun and that it is clean.” 

Fourth-grader Andrew Jones said he hoped solar will become the future. “Gasoline is what’s causing a hole in the ozone layer and we want that to stop,” he said. 

Fifth-graders took on the role of architects during the spring semester as they designed passive solar homes for the fair. “You are capturing as much of the sun’s energy as possible by virtue of the design of the house,” said Ingley. “They learned that a house should always be longer on the south side and have a lot of windows. Today, they’re able to tell you during a walk down the neighborhood how each house is designed and which way they are facing. They know what makes a house warmer or cooler and how they need to design it to make it that way.” 

First- and second-graders took part in scientific investigations on plants, while kindergartners—who were too young to carry out experiments—had an artist come in and teach them how to make Van Gogh sunflowers and sun-print paper. 

Out in the garden, third graders Dylan Jones and Hasani Green were trying to rustle up s’mores in their solar ovens. Made from pizza boxes which were cut on the top to make room for plastic covers, the ovens used heat from the sun to cook the food. 

“The aluminum and the black paper under the box doubles the heat,” said Andrew, who was completely taken up with the whole process. “The difficult part was putting it together. But it was a lot of fun. We are going to try to make quesadillas next time. The best part is that we can use as much solar energy as we want for this and the sun will never die out.”