Story written by Glen Kizer
PG&E has 100 solar school installations either completely in or being installed as I type this and I decided it was a good time to take a tour of some of the schools south of the Bay Area in order to connect with some new principals and to visit some of the newly installed systems. At first, I dreaded the long drive, but by the time I pulled out of Pescadero I felt energized. Here is a personal diary of my trip. I apologize for interjecting myself into this story, but I couldn’t help myself. Later, students at each of these schools will write their own blog story so this is kind of my introduction to those blogs that are yet to be written.
I love Salinas. It is a wonderful place. Everywhere you look there are enormous farms where almost any kind of food is grown. It is known as the “Romaine Lettuce Capital of the World,” but I saw lots of other things being grown in these huge fields. Everything is laid out in this huge valley with hills on both sides and this lush agricultural empire covering the valley in all directions. It is a beautiful sight to see.
The PG&E Solar School in Salinas is appropriately enough inside a garden behind the Monterey Park Elementary School. It was one of the first schools in the PG&E program. Chris Banks is the principal and she was the principal at the time the installation was completed in 2005.
Monterey Park Elementary School includes grades k-6 and houses 566 students and 24 teachers. 100% of the teachers have their full credentials. The average teacher experience level is 20 years!
A half hour north of Salinas I came upon the City of Gilroy, California. Gilroy is great. It is the “Garlic Capital of the World” and everywhere you go there are signs and pictures of garlic. The solar installation there is one of the 2007-2008 schools.
James Maxwell is the principal and Rob Mendiola is the key contact for us on the district level. Mr. Mendiola coordinated the installation.
The Gilroy High School campus is huge. It is Grades 9-12, but there are more than 2,500 students on this one campus.
School has not yet started for the Fall, 2008 session so everyone was running around getting everything ready. One of the young women from the soccer team was there with her mother, Katherine McBride, who is a local realtor with Coldwell Banker and they agreed to pose for a picture in front of the solar panels. Thanks guys.
Leaving Gilroy I went over the hill on the 128 to Watsonville. Watsonville is a wonderful place. The cities in the valley base a large amount of their economic life on farming. Cities on the coast base a lot of their economic livelihood on tourists, fishing, and boating. Watsonville has it all. It is on the Pacific Ocean and there are people who are connected directly to the water, but there are huge farms. I even followed one of the trucks loaded with something, but I could never get close enough to get out of my car to ask the driver what was in the boxes. (Is it illegal to take pictures while driving?)
The PG&E Solar School in Watsonville is Ohlone Elementary and like Monterey Park in Salinas it was installed in 2005. Unlike Monterey Park, Ohlone has a different principal now than when the installation was originally completed. The Principal at Ohlone is Gloria Miranda and I have included a picture here that I took in her office.
There are 437 students in the k-5 Ohlone school. It is a wonderful school and a beautiful campus. All of the teachers are so nice. When I first got there, Gloria was walking around the campus and I went out to find her. As I walked around the buildings, teachers kept volunteering to help me find her. They were so busy trying to get ready for the students coming back to school this month and yet they went out of their way to try and help me.
But the most interesting thing about my visit was the farm directly across from the school. It was an unusual plant growing for what looked like miles so I asked what was the plant growing there. The answer surprised me. Artichokes! For the first time in my life I was up close and I almost touched a growing artichoke plant.
(I only touch vegetables with a fork.)
Down south on CA-1 just a few miles is a cluster of three beautiful communities on Monterey Bay. The largest of these three communities is Monterey which has a huge waterfront and a fantastic aquarium. The smallest city is Sand City. I stopped in Sand City to buy a Diet Coke and there is sand everywhere. The final city is Seaside where the PG&E Solar Schools Program has a “solar on a stick” installation at Highland Elementary. It is in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. The students are “The Superstars!”
Highland has a new principal, Ms Taffra Purnsely, and the day I was at the school was also the first day of class. The phones went out and the web site was overloaded and was failing to load. But everyone seemed calm even with all of the “first day back at school” gyrations. The school administration seemed to take everything in stride.
The school consists of grades k-5 and has 437 students.
Driving back up CA-1 and past those artichoke farms in front of Ohlone Elementary in Watsonville, I came to De LaVeaga Elementary in the ocean front community of Santa Cruz, California. De LaVeaga consists of k-5 classes and has 577 students. De LaVeaga also has a new principal, Ms Ruth Smith. De LaVeaga is another of the 2004-2005 schools in the first round of the PG&E Solar Schools Program.
What I love about this solar school project is the way they had the installation sited in their school garden. It is a beautiful setting, but they are serious about their garden. Many of the PG&E “solar on a stick” installations have gone into gardens according to teachers because “the plants reach up to grab the sunlight in order to grow in the same way that the PV panels reach out to capture sunlight in order to generate electricity.” This one is a particularly nice one.
Continuing north up the CA-1 (I did stop at the University of California at Santa Cruz which is one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen. There are redwood trees and some of the buildings are very contemporary and the entire campus overlooks the same Monterey Bay.), I drove by some of my favorite parts of California and I love California. Driving along the coast to Pescadero, there are waves crashing onto beaches and rocks and there was a fantastic blue sky and a whole lot of sun.
The school is technically an elementary + middle school combined to be the Pescadero Elementary and Middle School with 195 total students. Patty Able is the principal and I took a picture of her at her desk and I have included it here.
My favorite story of the day took place in Pescadero. I stopped for a Diet Coke at a restaurant in downtown Pescadero. I was not 100% sure how to get to the school so I asked some young women at a booth in the restaurant if they knew where the elementary school was located. They said “Go down this street and turn right. You can’t miss it. There is a huge solar array on a pole in front of the school.”
We had become a landmark. Later as I drove away after meeting with Ms Able, I saw the young ladies walking down the street and they all waved to me like they were glad they could help. Pescadero is a small town 5 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and yet the nice small town people could be living in Ohio or Illinois or Texas. I love big cities and there is a lot to do in San Francisco and Oakland and San Jose, but those big hearted small town people are hard to beat.
And that was my entire trip.