The Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance (KEEA) and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recently presented Philadelphia's Cook-Wissahickon School with one of four state-wide Energy Efficient Schools Awards. KEEA, an organization of businesses and non-profits dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, will donate services that will enable the school to receive an EnergyStar label. KEEA selected Cook-Wissahickon specifically because of the success of its student-run energy efficiency education program.
A pre-K-8 public school in Philadelphia's Roxborough section, Cook-Wissahickon took home the honor after a year-long energy-saving and educational campaign by the sixth and seventh grade classes. The award, presented by Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley to school representatives at the state capitol on May 28, was the product of a multi-year effort by school parents, teachers, students and partners.
KEEA Executive Director Brian Kauffman credited Cook-Wissahickon's community involvement as key to the organization's decision to recognize the school. "The parents were the ones who led the efforts and got the students and teachers involved. We had other [applicant] schools where it was more of an administration-led effort to save money on their bills."
Cook-Wissahickon science teacher Diane O'Fee Powers explained the student program. "The sixth-graders came up with an educational campaign to teach students and staff how to conserve energy throughout the school and the seventh graders worked on a plan specifically related to technology use. The hope for the student experience is to learn about saving energy and turn the students into teachers so they would take ownership of the ideas."
Sixth grader Hailey McInerney said that the experience extended beyond the classroom. "Some parents came and we all taught them about energy conservation after school," said McInerney, 12. "My family was learning a lot from us, and they were happy because they were saving money."
Ultimately, the school reduced energy usage by five percent. Kauffman, citing energy costs as a school's third largest expense beyond salary and benefits, suggested that the Philadelphia School District could emphasize energy conservation as a way to lessen its financial difficulties.
As for Cook-Wissahickon, the school plans to continue the program in conjunction with an expanding environmental science curriculum.
"This is part of the reason we received the award," said O'Fee Powers. “We don't just save energy, we are teaching more and more environmental science."
KEEA Education Fund's "Moving to the Head of the Class: An Energy Efficiency Resource Guide for Pennsylvania Schools"
MICHAEL FICHMAN is a writer, record producer, DJ and former ecologist living in Philadelphia. He blogs at pourthescience.blogspot.com.