Two Wisconsin Schools Shine Bright in Statewide Energy Challenge

Students at McFarland High School and Hillcrest Elementary School are celebrating their energy efficiency achievements after winning $2,000 for each of their schools. Sponsored by FOCUS ON ENERGY® and Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP), eleven schools participated in the Renew Our Schools energy challenge this spring. This engaging five-week program, facilitated by Resource Central, inspires students and staff to adopt behavioral changes at home and school.

McFarland High School won the Alumni Category, while Hillcrest Elementary School took first place for the Novice Category, each earning $2,000 for future energy efficiency projects. McFarland High School and Hillcrest Elementary School completed every activity available, earning the same energy-saving points. In pursuit of greater energy efficiency, these two schools received an additional $200 for completing two smaller challenges where students researched their local utility and dedicated one weekend to saving energy in their school by 10%.

McFarland High School

Score: 590 Points

McFarland High School Eco Club

McFarland High School's Eco Club previously won the Spring 2023 challenge and competed again under the Alumni Category. They revamped their approach by introducing a comprehensive Google Sheet assigning tasks to individual students, increasing their organizational skills and efficiency. Previously, they struggled with task management; now, the 15-20 students could achieve a streamlined workflow and easily complete all the required tasks. Eco Club members took proactive steps to bolster engagement within the school community by presenting at staff meetings and offering practical suggestions for integrating the challenge into classroom activities. Their suggestions ranged from simple energy-saving practices like turning off lights when classrooms were empty to ensuring equipment was completely shut down at the end of the school day or on the weekends.

The Eco Club
Energy Conservation Impact

The Eco Club leveraged the school’s weekly video announcement, the “Monday Minute,” to explain the functionality of the e-gauge, an energy monitoring device used throughout the challenge. Students showcased the tangible impact of energy conservation by turning off lights and measuring the impact in real-time.

To help nurture a deeper understanding of sustainable practices among their peers, the Eco Club also integrated the challenge into upper-level physics classes, where those students facilitated an energy audit of the school premises.

During the challenge, the Eco Club explored the inner workings of their school's mechanical room, learning more about the equipment their school relies on to create a comfortable environment. They also virtually toured the Dane County Landfill to gain insight into waste management practices. Here, they learned more about the landfill's renewable natural gas processing facility to understand the transformative potential of sustainable technologies.

Beyond School Building

Reflecting on their journey, senior Eco Club members Izzie and Riley offered invaluable perspectives and encouragement to fellow schools looking to participate. Izzie emphasized, “It’s a low-risk, high-reward challenge and a great way to foster energy-conscious behaviors within your school.” Echoing this sentiment, Riley highlighted the initiative's inclusivity, “It's never too late to engage and make a meaningful difference.”

Looking ahead, McFarland High School aims to deepen community engagement by collaborating with local stakeholders, including their Village. Specifically, they want to connect with their Environmental Coordinator and expand the challenge's impact beyond the school building.

Hillcrest Elementary School

Score: 590 Points

Hillcrest Elementary Electricity Cardinals

Three second-grade classrooms comprising 67 students took up the charge for Hillcrest Elementary School. Inspired by their district’s mascot, the students named their group “Electricity Cardinals.” Chippewa High School's Green Team created a unique initiative for the "Electricity Cardinals" by becoming mentors for this five-week journey.

This collaboration between Chippewa Falls High School and Hillcrest Elementary School underscores the impact of intergenerational mentorship in fostering environmental stewardship and empowering young minds to enact positive change. Each week, the high school mentors crafted lesson plans tailored to the second graders' understanding and actively engaged them in activities centered on energy conservation. From deciphering graphs showcasing energy usage, to hands-on demonstrations with specialized tools like infrared heat guns and light meters, the mentors taught the students how to make behavioral changes saving energy and measuring results.

Educating the Future
Transforming Abstract Concepts

“The Green Team students transformed abstract concepts into tangible learning experiences for the students,” praised Hillcrest Elementary School second-grade teacher Colleen Kunsman. “Watching them ignite a newfound passion for science among my students was inspiring.”

The second-grade students embraced their roles as advocates for energy conservation. They shared valuable energy-saving tips to classmates at various grade levels through posters on display throughout their school and in morning announcements. A highlight throughout the competition was a classroom video shared among the teaching staff, in which students asked them to join their quest for a 10% energy reduction over a single weekend.

Immersive Experiences

Evelyn, a second grader at Hillcrest Elementary School, expressed the importance of their hard work, stating, "By saving energy, you are also saving money." Her classroom used watt meters to gauge the energy consumption of their electric pencil sharpener and other pieces of classroom technology.

The mentorship extended beyond the classroom setting, offering students immersive experiences like touring Hillcrest Elementary School’s boiler room. They also embarked on a virtual field trip led by Solar Share, providing a glimpse into a future solar energy farm coming to their community.

Renew Our Schools Challenge

Other participants in the Spring 2024 challenge included:

  • North Crawford School District
  • Anthony Acres Charter
  • Laona School District
  • Baraboo High School
  • Ashwaubenon High School Mount Horeb Middle School
  • Sun Prairie East High School
  • Riverdale Elementary
  • SAGES - School of Agricultural and Environmental Studies

Each school participating in Renew Our Schools supported its students by exploring energy consumption in their buildings and at home. By making behavioral changes and completing energy actions to save electricity, the schools reduced their kWh usage by up to 5.6% during the five-week challenge. Wisconsin schools are preparing for the Fall 2024 challenge. Discover more about the competition and upcoming dates here.

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