In the process, we created an innovative science, technology, engineering, and math—or STEM—based program that is acting as a model for current state initiatives in districts across New Jersey.
The Green Energy Academy focuses on three major areas: clean generation, energy efficiency, and energy conservation for the core purpose of making a more sustainable way of creating and using energy. Our model is based on the fundamental concept of learning by doing. The students engage in real-world applications by installing and monitoring the systems on our campus:
· from our eco friendly green energy lab that is powered by the solar array in the front of the school,
· to the grid-tied solar array next to our green roof,
· to our 55 gallon biodiesel reactor that turns waste vegetable oil into a useable fuel,
· and, finally our smart greenhouse that we have programmed to gather data and react accordingly to efficiently maintain the correct temperature, soil moisture, and lighting for our organic crops.
While it is clear that we have been quite busy over the past four years, we are doing what we do in a simple attempt to keep up with the rest of the world. After all, there’s not a neighborhood in New Jersey that doesn’t have a solar panel, the wind industry—while it’s not so obvious in NJ just yet—has grown an average of 35% every year over the past four years, and new innovations in the area of electric vehicles, biofuels, and smart grid technology are emerging every day.
The Green Energy Academy students are well prepared and confident to enter into this field with not only the knowledge and skills, but also a passion for sustainability and the energy to make the change.
All of this became possible because of the system we have in place and the people who are part of that system. We have been the very fortunate recipient of both financial and technical support from our partner PSEG since day one of the program.
· Project Learning Tree has assisted with curricula and project development as well as grants and given our students an opportunity to share their “Green School” projects at numerous events including the National Youth Leadership Conference in Minneapolis last month.
· Ernst & Young helped support our green house project and invited our students to present their senior design capstone projects to their employees at a lunch and learn during an Earth Week Event.
· The Essex County Environmental Center has allowed us to share our projects and teach others at its annual Earth Day Celebration for the last four years.
· And Aeon Solar has given us the technical assistance and hours of labor to complete our projects in a safe and effective manner.
All of these educational and industry partners have had a significant impact on our students, on their learning, and on the program.
Also critical to our success was the leadership and confidence of our County Executive, Joe DiVincenzo and our Superintendent, Dr. Michael Pennella. Both of them saw an opportunity to create something great and a green advocate like myself was here to gladly accept the invitation to help make it happen.
By far the most important contributors to the success of our program have been the students of the green energy academy. Each of them has dedicated many hours to all of the projects, especially the geodesic greenhouse that we build from scratch. The students would often work until after the sun has set, sometimes doing some heavy lifting, sometimes working through the cold, sometimes making mistakes, but they were always learning.
They were the ones who initiated the idea of the greenhouse, researched a design, assessed the location, and worked hand and hand to build the geodesic dome. They were the ones to plant the vegetables, to dig the trenches for the conduit, to raise the tower for the turbine, to build the composter, and to create a space for our electric motorcycle to charge.
As a result of all this, students of the Academy walk out of these doors with a strong work ethic. They know that to be competitive in today’s increasingly global society, they must consistently work hard. They have also learned—at this young age—that hard work does pay off—and that it is rewarded through either scholarships, awards, college acceptances, jobs, internships, or just plain pride in saying, “I helped to build that”.
I am proud to see our four-year old program becoming a model for other career and technical education high schools in New Jersey. It is rewarding to share my experiences with other teachers and schools throughout New Jersey and to be part of curriculum development for a model Program of Study for Sustainable Design, Construction and Energy that can be adopted by other schools that share ECVTS’ commitment to teaching students about sustainability and green jobs.
Todd Menadier, ECVTS Teacher