Archive for the 'Teacher Perspective' 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.

Paradise: Not Always What The Name Implies…

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Story and photos from Greg Holman

humbolt-fire-ap-pic.jpg As many people on the west coast are living in  the smoke of hundreds (down from thousands) of lightning fires, it would be logical to do a story about the only regular maintenance involved in owning a solar system – periodically cleaning the panels. However, this is about something much different. With the instantaneous distribution of information, news, video and images, we are becoming a country – no, a world of desensitized individuals. 10,000 perish in an earthquake in the Middle East, millions of people displaced because of a hydroelectric project in China, and the list goes on. So, when more than 80 homes burned in the wind-driven “Humboldt” wildfire in Paradise, California, it was “section B” news for many people.


For residents living in and around the town of Paradise, this was reality. Thousands of people were displaced, most temporarily. Others were displaced from their homes forever. Somehow, this is amplified when it is realized that 7 of the people who lost everything were my former students.

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The PG&E Solar Schools program began in 2004. Who knew that it would grow to the large community of schools, non-profits, and people passionate about the program. Before the fire was even out, there had been several teachers throughout the state, officials from the Solar Schools Program, NEED, and the Foundation for Environmental Education calling and emailing to see if their school in Paradise was alright. Stay tuned for an article on what is being done for those students who lost their homes.


When something of such large scale hits so close to home, you realize how little we need to get by. Quickly, you see just how much we do each day is an “extra” and non-essential to go through life. Many of the people most affected are the ones with such a positive outlook – ready to rebuild and move on. Looking at my family and house still standing, I realize that so many things that we plug in are just luxuries.

As I am writing this, a three-week siege of lightning fires are slowly coming under control all over California, and again in the Paradise area. 50 more homes were lost in the region to these fires. Over 10,000 people are being allowed back into their homes as evacuation orders are being lifted. The governor twice, and tomorrow the President, will be in the area to assess the damage and plan for recovery.

If the second round of fires were not bad enough, today it was announced that the first fire has been deemed arson.

Lets focus on what we can control. First, get out and give your solar panels a good cleaning. Squeeze out every extra free watt you can by using “soft” water and a squeegee. Next, try to volunteer in your area in any capacity that you can for emergency preparedness. Donations of used clothing and goods to non-profits, financial donations, or volunteering for a number of local organizations can be ways to help!

Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to donate to their local chapter of the American Red Cross, or for people specifically in Paradise: the American Red Cross or the Paradise Community Foundation (

Arnold Schwarzenegger Tastes Solar Cooking: “Fabulous!”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008


On Tuesday, March 25, 2008 solar cooking became “mainstream” in California. California Ag Day was held on the west steps of the state Capitol building. This year’s theme was “Decisions Today will be Impacting Tomorrow.” Thousands attended to see booths relating to agriculture in California and healthy eating. Over 1,200 people sampled solar cooked sweet potatoes made by 6th graders from Paradise Intermediate School’s Evergreen 6 program and 4th-5th grade students from Plainfield school in Woodland. Those sampling the solar-oven-made goods included hundreds from the public, celebrity chef Guy Fieri from the Food Network, and several policy makers including assemblymen and the Governor himself! The following story shares some perspectives from that day.

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“Talking to many people at on time about how our solar ovens work and what we came to do that day, was hard, but soon got easier as the day wore on. I started to say the same thing over and over again, and had to find something new to say. When I found something that sounded right, I would start to say that over again and would start the process again. Near the end of the day, the governor came around to all the booths to try the great food and listen to people talking about the agriculture of California. At first I was nervous, but near the end of my part of the speech, it was just like talking to a regular person.” Serenity Fitzgerald, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6


“On Tuesday March 25, 2008, Evergreen 6 took thirteen students to the California State Agriculture day. I was one of those lucky thirteen students to attend. Serenity Fitzgerald and I recited the following speech: ‘Hello, would you like to try a sweet potato that we have made in our solar ovens? We are a solar school in Paradise, California and our name is Evergreen 6. We are a solar school because we have a solar panel at our school and we have sixteen ovens that we have cooked in today.’ Little did we know that one of the people we would be reciting this speech to was the governor of California: Arnold Schwarzenegger! After he tried one he said, ‘Good job. Fabulous, keep up the good work.’ Serenity and I shook his hand and then he moved on. The task of serving the governor was exciting and rewarding.”
Jennifer Olson, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6


“In Sacramento, at the California on Agriculture Day, I was cooking sweet potato fries. We cooked them at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. We cooked 30 bags of them. The normal temperature for cooking them is 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 18-20 minutes. Since our ovens did not get that hot we had to make do with what we had. It was very quick going after a while. We put salt and pepper on the fries. We served them on toothpicks and in cups.”
Cooper Hawkley, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6

“Our students were thrilled to serve Governor Schwarzenegger some of our solar-baked fries and tell him about our solar oven project. The students working at the serving table, Jennifer and Serenity were very professional and did an awesome job talking to the governor, as well as all of the other visitors to our booth. Other students kept an eye on the food as it cooked in the sun and talked to passers-by about how the solar ovens cook food using only the energy form the sun. Watching our students educate others about the importance of conservation and renewable energy was a powerful experience!”
Amy Behlke, a teacher from Evergreen 6

“The students really stole the show. They were incredibly professional and well prepared. I am so proud that they are part of the PG&E Solar Schools Program.”
Karalee Browne, Charitable Contributions/ Solar Schools Program Manager

students-being-interviewed.jpg oven-cooking-sign.jpg students-being-interviewed2.jpgA PG&E “Bright Ideas Grant” made the students’ purchase of 16 sun ovens possible. These durable yet portable ovens will bake virtually anything you can bake in your home oven and they use zero electricity! The project is aimed at teaching students to understand solar and renewable energy through hands-on activities. One goal of the project is to sell baked items, then use the proceeds to send more solar ovens to a remote village in Africa. With PG&E’s help, the students are on their way to sending a second oven! Another goal of the project is to increase awareness of solar energy.


As a major sponsor of the event, PG&E did more than just “talk the talk.” “What better, and fun way, to illustrate the impact renewable power can make on our future than to have a celebrity chef instruct our future leaders on the importance of healthy eating by using solar power?” said Vice President of Civic Partnerships and Community Initiatives Ophelia Basgal.While a solar trailer powered the California Ag Day sound system, celebrity chef, Guy Fieri was cooking in a solar-powered kitchen. His enthusiasm and energy were contagious. He mingled with the crowd, happily signing autographs and talking with fans.


An event like this does not happen without hard work and great organization. There are many at PG&E that created this perfect “solar storm.” A special thanks to the following:

  • Event Planners: Susie Martinez, Tracy Gremillion
  • Solar Schools Program Manager: Karalee Browne
  • Public Affairs: Dan Kim
  • Area Support: Dolly Hazel, Jeannette Ho (Helmet)
  • News Support Jennifer Ramp , Paul Moreno

In the end, the day exceeded everyone’s expectations. Greg Holman, another teacher from Evergreen 6 adds, “The students were extremely excited to be part of California Ag Day. As the hundreds in attendance started to crowd around the solar ovens, they began to see that they were truly sharing something most people are not aware of. Many asked where they could buy their own solar oven, and even more walked away with a huge smile. Not only was the food delicious, it was made virtually carbon-free! Solar cooking on the Capitol steps seems like it could not be topped. Add to that the huge interest in solar cooking, friendly celebrity chef Guy Fieri, and a visit by a genuinely interested celebrity governor! Everyone involved will never forget that day….”



Clearlake – Clear views for solar

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Story input provided by Nola


I am a teacher at the Clearlake Community School in Clearlake, California. I love living around the lake and having the lake as a center for our community as well as for neighboring communities like Lakeport and Lucerne and Kelseyville. The lake connects us and holds us together. I love having my friends and my family all living in and around this wonderful creation of nature. In the morning the sunlight hits the water and there is a mist that rises that you would have to see to understand. And every sunny day the lake is this wonderful blue color made vibrant by the yellow sun and the blue sky.


It is not a perfect circle in shape and the shoreline is varied and some places there are houses and bridges and other places there are just fish and birds. The lake is not a human invention, but rather a natural phenomenon. There are many lakes around the United States and around the world, but each lake is unique. Our lake is unique. And Clearlake is a beautiful place to live and work because almost wherever we go we can see the lake in the background.

My “people” have been driving around and living along the perimeter and boating on this wonderful lake since before I was born and they will do so long after I am gone. My friends live here. Few manmade structures offer us such a connection to each other as this clear lake. But I am gradually starting to get used to one manmade structure, the solar electricity panels in our “solar on a stick” pole mounted PV system. It is kind of an odd shape and some people might say it looks like a flower or a tree. It never moves and there is nothing turning and there is nothing burning inside. It is like a rock, but it is becoming familiar to me. I am getting comfortable with it. It is becoming part of our community.

This solar electricity system reminds me of the lake. The solar panels are arranged into an array, as a group of panels, and the array sits at the top of the pole at the school and collects sunlight just like the lake. And the array is blue just like the lake. Every morning the sun hits the solar panels and it wakes up and starts to make electricity. At night, the sun goes dark and the solar panels too go to sleep. Both the solar panels and the lake appear to be quiet, but there is life in both. The solar panels are generating electricity for our school and that electricity helps to power our lights, our computers, our telephones, our televisions, our microwave ovens, our televisions and the fans that move the heated air around in the winter and the cool air around in the winter.

Electricity may be invisible, but it is one of the most important parts of our community and in many ways it connects us to the outside world in the same way a road or river connects us. The lake has fish and birds and people and plants and trees all depending on it for life. All of us live here because of the lake and tourists come here to look at and fish in and boat on top of the lake. The more I think about it the more I find the solar electricity system at our school on top of that pole reminds me of our wonderful lake. One of the things that I have always wanted each of our students to understand is how we must protect the lake from pollution. Now what I also want them to understand is that the solar panels on the top of that pole help us protect the lake as well as the air we breathe and the land we walk on.

The grant that enabled us to get the solar array came from PG&E. The Foundation for Environmental Education helped us with the installation and NEED helped us with the teaching part of the project. We have a live data collection system that enables anyone to look on line and see how much electricity we are creating for our school at any time of the day.

The PG&E Solar School Program is a nice project for our in-classroom teaching because it gives us a tool for teaching math and science and art and social science. It helps our students understand that it is possible for a small group of kids in Clearlake, California to generate electricity. A multi-billion power plant is not the only way to generate electricity. All we need is a few solar panels on the top of the pole. Of course, to generate all of the electricity we use in Clearlake we will need a lot more panels, but how many and where they might go and how much they will cost is all part of an educational exercise. And for the next generation that we are teaching, it will not be “either fossil or solar” or “nuclear or wind” but rather how to use each fuel source to take advantage of its strengths and to minimize its disadvantages. Those won’t be easy decisions and this project will help our students understand the question a lot more than students who have never seen a solar electricity system work.


So just like we use the lake as a teaching tool to help them understand how powerful this large body of water is and why we must protect it while we use it, the PV panels help us teach them how important it is for us to protect our environment while we live in it and while we use it. I also like it because every day when I go to school I love driving by the lake as it wakes up.  Every day, when I get to school, I love seeing that blue solar array on the top of that pole starting its day as well. And more and more of my friends and family are starting to notice it to. Hopefully, in the near future, we will all be so used to seeing solar panels on every building in Clearlake that people will stop paying any attention to our solar on a stick. But I will notice it. I will always be aware of both the lake and now the solar panels year in and year out doing their jobs like I am doing mine.

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