St. Rita, Progressing into the Future with the Sun as its Guide

By Katie Kizer, intern at the Foundation for Environmental Education

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The saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may need to be revised to something along the lines of, “If it ain’t broke, that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better” at St. Rita of Cascia High, a college preparatory school for young men located on Chicago’s South Side. The school has been actively working towards advancing its technology within classrooms.  They are working to create a state of the art science wing which will allow for more fruitful learning, including the incorporation of solar PV panels.  A project to install a 1 kW system at St. Rita was recently completed and will allow for faculty members such as Sue Krystof to design classroom lessons around observation of the solar collectors and data collection.  She teaches courses ranging from AP Chemistry to both regular and Honors Physics.  Sue explains how she is going to have her class “hook up to get data so we could measure temperature changes and to monitor the efficiency of the solar collectors.  Then each class would take a week to collect the data.”  It is an exciting development when a science class can not only witness such advanced technology, but interact and learn from it.

Assistant Principal Joe Partacz comments about the school’s outlook on modernization and the motivations behind the solar project. “We at St. Rita feel that we have to stay ahead of the curve technologically in order to give our students the best education possible.  Our faculty is excited about the new beginnings in our science department and we look forward to using the panels this coming school year.”  This mentality fits in nicely with the goal of preparing these young men for higher learning.  The school prides itself on the fact that “students placed in the Academic Program receive the highest quality college preparatory curriculum offered by any high school.”  Additionally, the school has an honors program option for exceptional students who also absorb the benefits of this fine education.  The solar installation has added another dimension to this advanced educational facility.

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In addition to the solar PV panels, Assistant Principal Partacz discusses how St. Rita has been “totally gutting out and remodeling our Chemistry labs to make them more state of the art. The new labs with the addition of the solar panels will give our students a better understanding in the field of science.”  All of these changes have resulted in turning a new page in regards to educating the young men about science, an exciting development for the staff at St. Rita High.

We live in a country where our school systems are not standardized, and often our children do not experience new-age technology such as solar installations, so this project is a unique opportunity for the students.  My hope is that when they graduate and move on to their next chapter, they take with them the lessons they have explicitly learned through these science classes and other subjects.  Aside from the ins and outs of energy efficiency, these kids should take with them the knowledge that not all students in the United States are able to learn in such a state-of-the-art environment.  Alumni of St. Rita can one day fight for the opportunity for all children to filter into schools with better resources.  The solar PV panels at St. Rita High are more than a simple modernization tactic: they represent a beacon of awareness for future projects.  We must scoop up both under-funded private schools and the public school districts which fall through the cracks of lower-income neighborhoods and find a way for all children to learn about going green.  St. Rita’s project allows us to stop and remember those who are less fortunate and take it upon the bright and eager young ones of this south side Chicago school to bring all American schools into the new age.

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