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Arizona Sunshine + Vision + Teamwork = Holmes Elementary School

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

The Holmes Elementary School in Mesa, AZ, has a pole-mounted solar electricity system facing south and generating electricity for the school. It is a 1 kW system and it is tied to the Salt River Project (SRP) power grid. For every watt of electricity generated by this solar electricity or photovoltaic (PV) system, it is one less watt the school will buy from SRP. But the primary purpose of this system is not to reduce the electric bill for the school. The primary purpose of this project is to use solar electricity as a teaching tool to help improve the students’ understanding of science and math.The project took several months from the original idea to scheduling the ribbon cutting, but it did not take too long. The process gave the students, teachers, and the school administration time to figure out a number of ways to integrate the solar electricity into the classrooms. It was a team effort and the teamwork paid off.

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“We could have hurried the project, but there was no reason to rush it. We felt it was important that our entire school be involved in the process, and while nothing is perfect, we have gone a long way toward keeping everyone connected to the project,” said Principal Darlene Johnson. “We also want our neighbors to understand what we are doing and our parents and our local community leaders. Our school is at the center of the neighborhood and it is important to bring everyone into the process when we make significant changes, and this is definitely a new direction for us. Our school is now generating part of its own electricity. How many schools can say that?”
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Katie Herring with SRP’s Environmental Initiatives department sees the working solar electricity system as only the first step in the process. “SRP has developed a renewable energy curriculum designed to go hand in hand with the solar installation. Providing a real world application of solar at the school will help connect and develop critical math, science and engineering skills for these students. This is such a great project from so many perspectives.”

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Most of the electricity used at the school will continue to come from SRP power plants and flow to the school through the system of interconnected wires that makes up part of the US electric power grid.

According to Rick Michalek, Operations Director for the Mesa Public School District, “This is primarily an educational project. It will reduce Holmes’ electric bill by a small percentage, but everyone involved in this project understands it is intended to make science and math a little more real for the students and the teachers at the school. They will gain some valuable first hand knowledge of solar power production, which in turn may motivate them to learn more about alternative energy sources and energy conservation. I think that the wireless monitor is a great visual aid to enhance the learning experience. The students can observe the power production of the panel in real time, and use the recorded data to make historical comparisons and generate reports”.

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Guadalupe, a fifth grade student in Mrs. Wilson’s class writes: What I think as a kid and student of Holmes Elementary is that the solar panel looks great and I believe other people will think that it’s a school doing very artistic and visionary kinds of projects. I also think it will be good for other students of Holmes Elementary to tell their perspective of the solar project. It would be good because the students of Holmes Elementary will learn about how natural energy comes from the sun. They’ll know that here in Arizona it is always sunny so it is a good place to have solar panels.

Elisabeth, a sixth grade student in Mr. Gibson’s class writes: As a student I think that the solar panel is a good idea for each staff member and student. As each student gets to know more about the solar panel, it will make perfect sense to them.

Principal Johnson writes: Teachers at Holmes Elementary are excited about the “real life” experiences the solar panel brings to our site. A field trip to the west side of campus provides lessons in science and math. This first hand experience with solar energy will open doors for our creative students to many possible alternative energy resources. The solar panel will “spark” the imagination and “peak” the interest of our students.