Project Solar: Yolo County Office of Education

Spotlight 2.18.16

Project SOLAR
Yolo County Office of Education

The global effort to address energy sustainability has found a local home in the Yolo County Office of Education.

Project SOLAR – Sustaining Our Local Alternative Energy Resources – is an initiative of the Yolo County Office of Education (YCOE), the County of Yolo and solar system supplier SunPower.

The project funds K-12 Energy Academies that prepare students for college and careers in alternative energy, as well as two solar installations that provide power for county buildings.

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Now in the third year of its five-year timeline for development, Project SOLAR’s initial focus has been on programs for high school students through efforts such as:

  • Summer Energy Academies for high school students through Woodland Community College;
  • Integration of courses about energy and sustainability into existing programs and courses; and
  • Professional development and resources for educators to support project-based learning and courses that focus on alternative energy.

The 2016 Summer Academy will offer field trips and career exploration in the areas of water distribution systems and energy.

Deborah Bruns, Coordinator of Curriculum & Instruction for the Yolo County Office of Education, is on the leadership team for Project SOLAR.

Bruns said the project has resulted in “an excellent partnership between curriculum and instruction and career technical education. We know we need to merge these two areas to give all students a rigorous academic experience and real-world work experience. This is the future.”

project solar 3Project SOLAR field trips give students opportunities to put what they’re learning in the classroom into a real-world context. “Field trips alone don’t mean as much if students haven’t learned the science behind what they’re doing,” Bruns said.

The field trips also let students take a hands-on role in their learning.

For example, students in a computer science and robotics class at YCOE’s alternative education high school in Woodland visited Greenbiotics, a local company that designs and manufactures robots to clean solar panels. Students were able to help build the robotic devices.

Students from several schools also have worked with an organization called GRID Alternatives, which leads teams of volunteers and job trainees to install solar in homes for low-income families.

GRID Alternatives’ classroom presentations, internships and field trips have been integrated into existing courses in engineering, industrial technology and science. Through the work experience component of the program, high school students help install solar panels on area homes.

Field trips to the nearby U.C. Davis campus expose students to research and design programs in the energy and sustainability fields and let them interact with the college students, researchers and engineers.

Students in grades 9-12 also work with the U.C. Davis Energy Efficiency Center to conduct professional energy audits of their school buildings. The students analyze the results and present them to their school boards.

The project has funded mini-grants for teachers at four schools to develop lessons and activities in areasproject solar 2 including solar-powered robots, fuel-cell cars, biomass energy production and solar phone chargers.

High school students involved in the project can earn college credit from Woodland Community College while learning about science and exploring careers in alternative energy. Project SOLAR courses and Academies help students qualify for a Sustainable Agriculture Certificate program at the college.

Student feedback on the project is positive, Bruns said. “It’s always great to get students out of their classrooms and on to college campuses or workplaces. Students say, ‘Oh wow! project solar 4This puts together everything we’ve been learning about energy and sustainability, and now it makes
more sense.’ ”

Future jobs could include careers in engineering, science and technology.  But even for students who don’t end up choosing careers in the field, learning about energy sustainability is an important part of being an informed citizen.

“Project SOLAR is about college and careers, but also about life,” Bruns said. “Students are going to be making choices about things like energy use and recycling as voters and consumers.”

The project has grown to include a number of new partners representing business and community organizations, education and government.

Funding for the project is flexible, Bruns said, “so we’ve been able to think about how to leverage what we want and put things in place. There are a lot of moving parts to this project. When something comes along that we can develop a partnership around, we jump on it.”

Project SOLAR received the Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association in 2015.

The project itself could be a model of sustainability. Bruns said their goal is that the concept will live on well beyond Project SOLAR’s five-year time frame, through classes that are being integrated into the regular curriculum and through the community activities and relationships that are being built.

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For More Information

  • Find out more about the Project SOLAR partners here.
  • Additional resources for teaching students about sustainability can be found on the EcoWatch website.
  • The Center for Ecoliteracy, based in Berkeley, has dozens of resources for promoting ecological education, including its “California Foods for California Kids” initiative, a partnership with several school districts.

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