Fall colors in Illinois, and solar perspectives from Hawthorn Middle School

Driving from downtown Chicago to the northern suburbs is always a treat especially when the fall colors are at their peak. Vernon Hills, Illinois is very wooded and I can’t help but wonder if this characteristic gets taken for granted by some of the locals. The winding road leading to Hawthorn Middle School is lined with Maples, Oaks, and Elms all ablaze in reds, yellows, and oranges on this sunny but cool fall day. As I arrive, I’m impressed with the schools architecture, two separate wings, north and south, both low-rise and contemporary. No visible graffiti and almost pristine, the schools perimeter feels secure and conducive to the preparation of tomorrows leaders.


Upon entering the building I’m pleasantly greeted and directed to the gymnasium where the mornings activities are already underway. The crowd is electric as the teachers/emcees direct students to assigned seating with a blend of instruction and impromptu cheerleading. When I’m introduced along with Lisa Starks from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF), the crowd erupts, now I truly understand the infectious nature of sincere applause. To date, I don’t believe I’ve ever been greeted with such enthusiasm.


The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, Foundation for Environmental Education, and ComEd share a vision of how small learning laboratories (1kW Solar Arrays) can attract student curiosity, enhance curriculum, raise awareness and educate not only students but also communities at large. Since 1999 ComEd has been involved with solar schools but never have I seen such genuine enthusiasm coupled with grace and gratitude. We knew this was a good idea way back then and clearly the energy and environmental issues of today resonate with people of all ages and backgrounds. Students in particular, have a lot at stake, armed with good information they will no doubt make choices that will lead to a more sustainable future. The faculty and administration at Hawthorn clearly get it.


I want to thank Doug Shearer for carrying the torch; it’s usually how these things happen. A true champion must emerge to shepherd the project through all the red tape and approvals. I also want to thank our budding young engineers, Hawthorn students Corey Cale, Jose Arreola, and Mikhail Nikitin for helping document the installation by producing a cool video as well as doing work on the actual installation. Here again, I continue to espouse the virtues of the program; you can teach a variety of concepts by integrating a project like this with other offerings at the school.

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Finally, the first Solar School of the program was Reilly Elementary in Chicago, Illinois, and they continue to be avid participants in the building of a more sustainable community. Then there’s Pam Phelps at Apple River Middle School, another true champion of this approach to learning and others who continue to support this program. I want to thank all of the over thirty schools now participating in this innovative approach to teaching.

Paul M. Wallace
Senior Program Lead

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