They’re turning the lights out, cutting copies and leaving the heating and air units off throughout the system’s schools. Using less energy is adding up to big savings, promoting creativity in the classroom and engaging students in the “green” movement.
Teachers at Alexandria Elementary are seeing what began as an effort to save money turn into a teaching tool for conservation. They have a recycling program, an outdoor classroom, a compost pile and they’re recycling rainwater.
Practicing and teaching conservation begins in the earliest grades. In an effort to save and avoid asking parents for more money, teachers and kids are using broken crayons and sharing dry-erase board tablets for writing and taking tests.
“I think it’s a really good life lesson,” said kindergarten teacher Kelly Goodwin. “We’re down to the penny on what we can spend.”
Goodwin said it has spurred classroom creativity, too. That creativity can be seen in a nature education project she teaches each year. Before the recession, Goodwin cut paper leaves out for the project, but now the class goes outdoors to collect them.
“It’s saving and it’s free. It’s also better because they’re seeing the real thing,” she said.
Second-grade teacher Amy McAlister said she is also learning to do more with less.
In her classroom and in others, the lights go off and students sometimes work in natural light — no problem on sunny days and when students are using new technologies such as smartboards to learn.
“As long as they are able to see what they are doing, we turn the lights off,” she said.
McAlister’s students also bring light coats so they can turn the temperature down a degree or two to save money without sacrificing comfort.
First-grade teacher Karen Shipman said teachers are also saving by leaving appliances such as small refrigerators and microwaves out of the classroom. They’re also checking lights, not only in their classrooms but in janitors’ closets and bathrooms as well as turning off computers at the end of the day. That’s something they almost never did before the recession, she said.
“We thought at first that it was going to be hard, but it worked out OK,” Shipman said. “You don’t think about what energy was being pulled from those things, but it helps a lot.”
Fourth-graders there have taken conserving a step further and have begun supporting a school-wide recycling program. They prepared and distributed collection boxes for recyclable goods for each classroom. After a while, they’re collected and sent away to be recycled.
By the fifth grade, they’re talking about what conservation means, using an outdoor classroom that includes seating and planters, said fifth-grade science teacher Donja Dryden.
“We want them to be people who grow up and recycle,” she said.
By the sixth grade, they’re beginning to understand the significance of conservation, said sixth-grade history teacher Rex McAllister. This generation, he said, is learning lessons about the practical aspects of conservation, lessons that should serve them well as adults.
“They’re not going to use up their money on light bills” he said. “They’re going to always conserve.”
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.