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Blackout Day shines light on student learning

WESTBROOK — Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School turned off the lights Wednesday for student learning and fundraising.

A project of the Earth YES! class, lights were turned off for seven hours, which was intended to produce dual outcomes.

W-WG Science Instructor Pat Merrick, who teaches the class, said students came up with the idea for a Blackout Day. They wanted to do something beneficial for the environment and also support Hurricane Harvey relief for a school in Houston, Texas, where 2013 W-WG graduate Sara Schoborg teaches art.

“Hopefully the whole school gets into the idea of turning off the lights and being green and doing something nice for someone that was hard hit over a month ago,” Merrick said.

Prior to Wednesday’s Blackout Day, the 15 students in the class, ranging from 9-12th graders, were busy doing research. For a period of time, students read the school’s electric meter at the beginning and end of the day to calculate the amount of wattage used and costs saved if the school’s 1,100 lightbulbs rested an entire school day.

The result showed a savings of over 34,000 watts, which translated to a cost savings of $22.67, said Merrick. The class was hopeful for an additional $50 in cost savings from teacher’s opting to reduce or eliminate use of other electronics, such as SmartBoards, projectors, printers, electric pencil sharpeners and other electricity dependent tools.

The money saved Wednesday from reducing the school’s use of electricity will be donated to Schoborg’s school in Houston. Merrick said the idea to donate funds to Schoborg was inspired by other fundraising events sponsored by the school’s student council.

“We’re just piggybacking on great work they’ve already done,” Merrick said.

Beyond the fundraising aspect, the Blackout Day was turned into a lesson on energy efficiency for not only the Earth YES! class, but all W-WG students.

“It’s amazing how tied in we are to electricity,” Merrick said. “It is important for students to understand the role electricity plays in the school.”

The Earth YES! class had prepared quizzes, scavenger hunts and games in which students could win prizes to aid in student participation and learning.

“Everybody is wearing black for fun,” said Sammy Ward, a ninth-grader in the Earth YES! class. “It is very fun.”

In the weeks following Wednesday’s Blackout Day, students in the class will learn about fluorescent and LED alternatives, Merrick added.

“The project allows kids to put in some real life application into what we’re learning,” he said.

The idea is that students will then present their project’s findings to the district’s school board during its November regular meeting and encourage the board to consider energy efficient alternatives from a cost savings standpoint.

W-WG has a unique approach to the statewide YES! (Youth Energy Summit) group. The group, which encourages and supports youth in communities across the state to create economic and environmental vitality through hands-on learning, hosts statewide competitions for participants to have their projects judged.

“Our school turned that contest idea into a class,” Merrick said.

Every other day, students enrolled in the class learn about environmental concepts ranging from energy efficiency to water conservation. Those concepts help them on the days in between, which are dedicated to working on designing and implementing their projects to be entered for contest.

The Blackout Day project is one of the projects the class will enter this year.

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