If the future lies in alternative energy sources, sixth graders at Springfield Middle School will get a glimpse of it starting next fall.
The school will be joining the Green Power Solar Schools program in conjunction with York Electric Co-op and Santee Cooper. The companies will install a 2-kilowatt solar panel system at the school over the summer and provide training for sixth-grade science teachers on how to include the system in the science curriculum. The $20,000 solar system and teacher training will be provided by York Electric and Santee Cooper at no cost to the Fort Mill School District.
"It's very much a teaching tool," Springfield Principal Keith Griffin said. "It gives us lots of information about solar energy and output and our weather, and how much energy we can collect here."
The panel will be integrated into the school's power system and will provide enough power to run about a half-dozen computers, Griffin said. While it will not offset much daily power usage - a couple hundred dollars a year, according to Director of Middle and Secondary Education Marty McGinn - the real value comes from the educational component.
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State curriculum standards require sixth graders to spend mandate six to nine weeks learning about energy. The Solar Schools program, which is an international program with member schools across the U.S. and abroad, provides kits for participating schools that include lesson plans geared toward local curriculum requirements.
"We hope down the road that York Electric will help us train teachers at other schools so they can use the data from the Springfield site as well," McGinn said.
Five other middle schools across South Carolina participate in the program through partnerships with Santee Cooper and electric co-ops throughout the state.
York Electric officials approached the school district about joining the program earlier this year, McGinn said. Around the same time, one of the sixth-grade science teachers at Springfield had read about the program and contacted York Electric to find out how to join.
District officials worked with York Electric to find a suitable site for the solar panel, and they decided on a spot near Springfield Middle's bus parking. The panel will sit atop a 14-foot pole, so it cannot easily be tampered with.
In addition to the panel, York Electric is also giving the school a computer to monitor the power generation and to connect with the Solar School Web site, which allows teachers and students access to the data collected at every other school involved in the project.
Local weather conditions greatly affect the effectiveness of using solar energy. Cloud cover, humidity, air quality and other factors will make solar power more attractive and efficient in some areas of the country and less efficient in other areas, Griffin said.
Joining the program is just another step in Griffin's effort to make Springfield Middle a "green" school, he said. Due to the way the school was designed and constructed, it will probably never receive official "green" certification under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards used for such designations in commercial and government buildings. But that won't stop him from trying.
"We recycle everything and work hard on and talk about environmental problems," he said. "We talk to our teachers a lot about conserving energy."
Students will likely begin their first lessons on solar power by the middle of the first semester next school year, Griffin said.