Ann Arbor awards grant to elementary school solar program

Sunday, February 3, 2019 - 2:36pm

Mayor Chris Taylor delivers a grant to the Ann Arbor STEAM School Principal Megan Fenech Saturday.

Mayor Chris Taylor delivers a grant to the Ann Arbor STEAM School Principal Megan Fenech Saturday. Buy this photo
Cameron Hunt/Daily

On Feb. 1, the city of Ann Arbor awarded a $15,000 Sustaining Ann Arbor Together grant to A2 STEAM at Northside Elementary School. The school will use the grant to fund the implementation of a solar curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade to support educational efforts about clean energy and its use.

During the 2017-2018 school year, students at A2 STEAM began fundraising for the installation of 60 solar panels at the school and created the Solar at STEAM Project. Now that they have raised enough money to install the solar panels, the school wants to use the SA2T grant to educate students on solar power through a comprehensive, project-based curriculum.

Jean Wilson, an A2 STEAM at Northside science teacher, pursued the grant. With a self-proclaimed passion for sustainability, Wilson said she hopes the grant will help educate her students about the effects of climate change and make a positive impact on the Ann Arbor community.

“I’m hoping that we create a sustainability mindset where kids are really thinking about their use. It’s hard to ask people to conserve when they’re not already thinking about how much they use, and it’s hard for that to be the first step,” Wilson said.

The SA2T grant resulted from a 2013 sustainability framework implemented by the city of Ann Arbor to work toward a common goal of sustainable energy practices. The four categories of the framework are climate and energy goals, community goals, land use and access goals and resource management goals.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, along with Councilmembers Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, and Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, presented the school with the grant.

Missy Stults, Ann Arbor Office of Sustainability and Innovations manager, A2 STEAM principal Megan Fenech, Wilson and about 10 students who worked on the project were present at the ceremony. Taylor expressed his excitement for the future of the project with the grant.

“We’re incredibly excited to partner with the schools on the administrative level and the students,” Taylor said. “I’m working toward a common goal of sustainability, and I want to thank that Ann Arbor residents constantly want is for all the governmental units to work together to utilize the energy and excitement that our students have, and we couldn’t be more pleased or proud.”

According to Wilson, each grade will be assigned to a different energy and sustainability related project that will aim to educate students on solar energy and help grow the school’s garden. Each project will last two to three weeks and will help explain the need for solar energy. Wilson said she kept in mind the project’s usefulness and educational standards while putting together the curriculum.

In the future, Wilson’s goal is for the school to focus on utilizing alternative energy sources and eventually have net-zero waste.

“The other thing I’m hoping is that we keep expanding our solar array and we keep expanding our wind and we develop battery systems,” Wilson said. “Someday I would like this to be a net-zero school. I know that that’s way out there, but that’s my hope and dream, that we at least introduce this concept and that we work towards minimizing our use of fossil fuels.”

A2 STEAM hopes to have an entire roof of solar panels by the end of the project. Wilson set up a GoFundMe with a goal of $20,000 to help fund the rest of the solar panel array.

Fenech thinks the education will encourage students to develop an appreciation of natural resources and create a better understanding of how products are made.

“What we hope to see is a scaffolding education, kindergarten through eighth grade, whereby students are working to more awareness understanding each year, but also recognition and appreciation for the necessity of thinking in terms of sustainability,” Fenech said. “If we can bring all of these pieces together, I think it will be so powerful that we will have kids who are literate in terms of sustainability, environmental issues and feel that internal drive to act upon what they know.”

Fenech is proud of the students of A2 STEAM for advocating for the solar panels.

“I’m just so excited about how this project has come to fruition in terms of students really being the initial impetus and asking for solar panels,” Fenech said. “In a project-based school, this sort of epitomizes how we empower students and give them so much force and choice.”

Stults believes this project can help drive more sustainability practices within Ann Arbor.

“This can be a project shared with all Ann Arbor schools and actually even further because sustainability is something we want to be the work of all of our young people, and so to start now and empower these students and their idea couldn’t be more exciting,” Stults said.

Hayner believes the grants will help Ann Arbor become a more sustainable community.

“I think these microgrants are a great idea because it really gives an opportunity for some of the city to let some new ideas come forward from the people because the people really have great ideas,” Hayner said. “We’ve seen it here with the students and we’ve seen it in other places with these grants, so I encourage people to stay involved with the grant program and I encourage my colleagues to continue to support it.”

Bannister echoed Hayner, encouraging students and staff at the school to let them see the finished product.

“This is a big grant, and it’s really exciting (to see) what you all will come up with,” Bannister said. “Let Councilmember Hayner and I know how we can stay involved so we can help.”