Archive for the 'Perspectives' Category

Hanging With Mr. Munford

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

By Alex Kizer

In Richmond, Virginia, the trees glow a particular gold in autumn. There is plenty of history and even more friendly folks. Greg Muzik, the principal of Mary Munford Elementary School, is no exception.
“I ride it to school most days,” Mr. Muzik boasts, showing off his Ego electric scooter.  Greg Muzik is a large man with a voice that contains life. “I don’t live far from the school and so it costs me about a penny a mile in electricity costs!”

For the last 7 years, Principal Muzik has followed an environmentally responsible personal life. But like all hard workers, it is difficult to separate work and private life. Mary Munford Elementary has been a solar school for a little longer than Principal Muzik has been seen buzzing through the streets on his electric scooter. “The school’s 1 kW system was an inspiration to me and the students. Frankly, I hoped it would show our young kids the viability of new energy technologies – I didn’t suspect I’d be so excited too!”

American Electric Power (AEP) donated the system to Mary Munford, hoping to create an awareness of energy issues like solar and recycling in the school. Looking at Principal Muzik’s attitude 7 years later suggests that it has been working. The school now has a PTA committee that makes energy efficiency a priority. “They worked on projects to make us more “green” before anyone started using the word “green,” said Muzik.

Not all of the Richmond School System has progressed as far and as fast as Mary Munford, however. Maryan Cammarata, a long-time Richmond resident, thinks that the energy efficiency policies of Mary Mumford have influenced her community, with more opportunity to come. “Mary Munford was the first school, for a long time, to have any recycling policy in the region,” she said. “I’ve heard about [Mary] Munford’s recycling and energy management policies for sometime now. Just look at Principal Muzik. He’s always zipping around, setting a good example for everyone.”


“I’m a big guy,” Mr. Muzik laughs, “and my weight has limited the range I can get from my scooter.” Mr. Muzik’s larger-than-life personality has definitely contributed to his standard-setting example, with students looking up to him for advice, and watching him live by the examples he preaches: “The students and I figured that the power generated by the solar array, while not much, would provide enough electricity to fuel my scooter forever.” With his good example and with new technologies on the horizon, Mr. Muzik’s next scooter should get him much farther, hopefully alongside an army of his former students, all embodying Muzik’s lessons of efficiency and excitement for life.

The Oceano Solar School Project

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Story written by Jim DeCecco, and credit to Darrin Neuer for Photographs

It was a great day to go solar.  Here at Oceano Elementary School, which is about 90 miles north of Santa Barbara, California, we had a “Solar Celebration”.  The classrooms of sixth grade teacher, Mr. DeCecco and fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hall celebrated the start of renewable energy at Oceano Elementary School.  The students cooked S’mores in their solar ovens, flew solar balloons, and analyzed the output from their new 1 kilowatt solar system provided by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. 
This was the culmination of a 2 month energy unit in which they learned about the different types of energy.  The students analyzed how they use energy and where the energy they use comes from.  In Mr. DeCecco’s class the students will use the information they have gathered to write and publish an energy guide later in the semester.


The school is making a huge push to lower their energy costs.  A school wide effort is being made in order to use energy more efficiently.  The school used $22,000 worth of electricity last year.  An agreement with the school district will allow Oceano Elementary School to receive half of the savings from reduced electrical consumption at the school.  Students have been monitoring classrooms to make sure lights are turned off when no one is in the classroom.  They are making sure all refrigerators at the school are full, even if it means putting jugs of water in them.  Because as the students researched, a full refrigerator uses less electricity than an empty refrigerator.    Students hope that using energy wisely will allow them to go on a few more field trips this year. 

Of course, our new solar panels will help reduce the cost of electricity.  Students will be monitoring the output of the panels through special software hooked up to computers in the classroom.  They will look at the electricity generated by the solar panels and then calculate the savings to the school.  Besides using math and science skills to calculate electrical output and savings, the students can monitor the carbon savings from their computers.  The software breaks down the carbon savings for the students and that information is fed into the classroom.  They then can use the information while studying about Global Warming.

All in all it was a great day for a solar celebration. 


Going Green at South Middle School in Arlington Heights Illinois

Thursday, January 8th, 2009


Our 8th grade students have really been impressive in their effort to help the school district save money along with seeking out ways for the school to use more sustainable energy. Last year’s students were originally presented with a problem to look for ways to reduce energy use and cost in our school. One of their solutions was to use energy-saving lights. Thanks to an administration that listens to students and the generous support of the Lutron lighting company, our classroom is now fitted with a balance LC system that measures the sunlight coming in the room to determine the amount of electric light needed. That system has resulted in a 50% savings in energy use and is part of a new Lutron program involving schools nationwide called Greenovation. (For more information about Greenovation you can visit

The students were also interested in capturing solar energy. We had Mr. Jay Bingaman from Thomas school visit to explain how their solar array worked and the process he went through to get funding from Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. The ambitious group of students followed up by writing a grant for South. Again with the support of administration we were able to receive the grant and enjoy our new array. This year’s students have been inspired to follow in the path of the previous class. They are currently working on an application for the Ecozone Contest for $100,000.

CBS News Chicago did a report on our entry process. (To see a copy of the CBS piece go to

Since both our panel and lighting system will be connected to a web site, we can monitor both energy use and production. Our students will be monitoring each sustainable effort to make appropriate decisions in regards to changes we will make in the future. We will also be planning our Solar Celebration for April 9.

Our students are having a tremendous impact in reducing our school’s carbon footprint as they show leadership and creativity in their efforts.

Spreading the word about Solar

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Hi, I’m Lucy Whitmore and I go to Evergreen 6 in Paradise California. Today I’m going to tell you about a special trip that five kids from my school got to go on to Red Bluff.

Evergreen 6 is a PG&E solar school. We have our own solar array, which powers Evergreen’s computer lab. Sometimes, Evergreen is invited to go on special trips to teach other people about solar power. This year, one of the trips was to Red Bluff to teach other sixth graders about solar. There are about 96 kids that go to Evergreen, and fifty qualified to go on the trip because they had all their work in. Many people wanted to go, but only five were picked. I was really happy that I got to go. Two days after they announced who was going, the lucky five got to school at 6:00 in the morning. Once everyone got there, we left for Red Bluff.

When we got to the Red Bluff science fair, a day where all of Tehama county’s sixth graders went to the fairgrounds for lessons on hands-on science, everyone set up the solar equipment. Some people set up solar gadgets on the tables, and others put up the “Evergreen 6” banners and blew up a solar balloon, which eventually popped. When all of that was set up, we got out the solar ovens and started making cookies so that the kids could try solar cooked food. By the time we finished that, we only had a few minutes to practice our presentations before the first group of kids showed up.

The first time that we did the presentations, it was nerve-wracking. I expected some of the kids to goof off and start talking to their friends, but they all just sat and listened. They were all really interested. With each presentation, it got easier to project your voice and just speak to all of the people.

We taught the other sixth graders about solar gadgets, like solar cell phone chargers, and about how solar ovens work. We also taught them about what solar power could be used for in the future and how it could work. After each group had listened to the presentations, we let them come up and try the solar gadgets and taste the cookies. It was really great, because all the kids were smiling and looking really excited. Most of the people there had never seen a solar panel in real-life, and they really liked it.

Going to Red Bluff was really fun. Besides, about a hundred more people now know more about solar. Some of those people could go home and tell their parents or siblings about solar power, and then even more people know about solar! It feels really good to know that you’ve taught more people about something important in our world. Also, it was so much fun!

Lucy Whitmore, 11, is a sixth grader at Paradise Intermediate School in the Evergreen 6 program. She enjoys reading, playing with friends, and making tie-dye things.

Lucy was among five students who, using the NEED philosophy, taught various aspects of solar energy to their peers in a neighboring county. Her contribution to the Red Bluff Solar day was to talk about large-scale solar, solar concentration, and alternative transportation. (Using solar to power small electric vehicles.)

The Salinas, Gilroy, Watsonville, Seaside, Santa Cruz, and Pescadero Trip

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

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.

Santa Cruz

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.

McCracken Middle School: What came first….the economic….or the energy savings?

Thursday, September 11th, 2008


Story written by Katie Kizer

Skokie school district 73.5 began its venture down the energy conservation path just as many other institutions do: retrofitting buildings in order to make its facilities just a bit more efficient.  What this entails is a process in which small adjustments are made to the buildings in order to lessen the daily energy use.  Specifically, District 73.5 installed motion sensors in its three schools within the more common areas to ensure that the lights come on only when individuals are present.  What subsequently took place for the three schools in this Skokie school district is unique in the face of renewable energy trends.  In 2006, both the school board and administrators decided to go forward with a program to install not only motion sensors, but also a “green/planted roof and a thermal solar panel system” on McCracken Middle School says Steve Ruelli, Director of Buildings and Grounds.

After going forward with this energy conservation plan, Mr. Ruelli began to educate himself about the available renewable energy options for the District.  What he learned was that renewable energies serve as invaluable learning tools to the students, in addition to saving money.  What is imperative to emphasize is that this movement began with the intent to save money, and discovered some very cool ways to also help out the planet.  This is a unique sequence of events.  Often times, people begin to feel guilty about the many CNN headlines entitled, “Our Earth in Peril” and begin to entertain the idea of alternative forms of energy and conservation.  After the decision has been made to pursue these alternatives, environmentalists tend to step in and outline the many ways in which institutions can actually save money through this process.  What Steve Ruelli and others from District 73.5 did was pursue these methods because they save money and they are good for the environment.  No convincing needed there.  All that is left is to carry out the project and pass on the success story.   

There are many ways to pass on this knowledge, including the education of all generations about the value of the sun’s power.  On a site visit in Skokie with my father, Glen Kizer, and Mr. Ruelli, I was able to witness the torch being passed on to the upcoming generation.  Jana Jones, Environmental Education K-12 Program Manager of the Marketing & Environmental Programs at ComEd, came out to McCracken to view the installation and discuss the nature of the project.  She brought her son, Hayden, with her to learn a little something about solar.  While he and I shared the same feeling that it was rather early to be out of bed and talking science, his interest was nothing but perked by this invention.  What Hayden and I will one day have in common is that he too will be sitting around with his friends in a class and he will be one of the only kids to have seen a solar installation at such a young age.  I should know, because much of my childhood was laced with tours of green schools and other energy-related projects.  I have memories of, for example, planting trees when I was still in the single digits.  These steps taken by parents like my father and Jana Jones will lead to at least a conviction that we must protect our environment.  While I did not understand this when I was Hayden’s age, I am now incredibly grateful that I was lucky enough to have those experiences.

Mr. Ruelli researched grants available, applied, and was awarded assistance.  Though it is not quite as easy as the snap of one’s fingers, the process of writing a proposal, applying for grants, and carrying out the project is something that any individual with a little motivation and persistence can carry out.  Steve Ruelli proves this through his experiences.  District 73.5 now has a new solar PV system, which is helping to supplement some of the schools’ energy use.  

While this is an excellent jumping off point for these teachers, students, and community, Mr. Ruelli expresses his wish “for a bigger system that could power more mechanicals.”  What is fantastic about this desire is that we only have potential advancement in our future as a society, or as many would say, ‘no where to go but up’ and these systems will only get bigger.  These projects are not designed to replace entire fossil fuel usage; they are intended to demonstrate the capability of renewable energies.  As a university student in Chicago, I have seen firsthand how those who run utility systems are not comfortable with initiating major projects up front without having witnessed the successful results.  And why should they be?  We have burned fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, and to rapidly change this tradition is a scary thing.  District 73.5 has the appropriate mentality in that it has installed a smaller end system that can open the door for future grants and funding for a larger system.  Once an institution has evidence of both economic and energy savings, there is more of an opportunity to add on to such projects.  This District is even ahead of the curve in that it is already aware that there are both economic and energy savings with these projects.  Not only do the fine individuals within this District know these facts without any needed convincing, they are craving more.  Steve describes the sentiment upon the completion of this project.  “I really like our system and can’t wait till the students, staff and community are all able to view this at or new addition dedication.”

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