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Illinois Science Teacher Initiates Wind Project on School Grounds

  • Blown away by renewable energy

  • By Julie Schimmelpfennig
    Times correspondent
    Nov. 24, 2012 10:45 a.m.
    Students at Riverview Community Consolidated School District 2 in East Peoria are getting a real hands-on learning experience thanks in part to their science teacher, Emily Dawson.
    Dawson won a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to build a wind turbine on school grounds. The grant will fund $40,000, or 90 percent, of the project. There was a pre-requisite that the school had to be a solar school. Dawson said the solar panels were there before she began working there six years ago.
    “That made it an easy transition for kids to learn about another renewable energy source. Through the solar grant, we found out about the wind grant. We were asked to apply for it from the foundation,” said Dawson.
    There are some conditions that go along with the grant. First, they did a wind study. Based on those results, they determined what height the turbine needed to be so it is effective. The tower itself will be 80 feet tall. Some community members were concerned about the sound it would produce. Dawson said, “If you were 60 feet away from the hub, which is 80 feet tall, it sounds like a whisper.”
    Another condition of the grant is that students learn about wind power. “We are required to teach about it. It is a gigantic educational tool. Students will get to see in real time how much energy is being produced by the turbine. Another lesson students will learn from this is seeing where the energy is being used, where it is coming from and how they could reduce their consumption (of electricity),” Dawson said.
    By using wind power, Dawson said it will help reduce the energy being pulled off the grid and therefore, reduce energy cost for the school. The wind turbine will make between $700-$1,500 worth of electricity annually, depending on energy rates, explained Dawson. The school typically spends about $24,000 each year on energy costs. “Now we’ll manufacture the power. We use all the power we produce (between the solar panels and wind turbine) first before we pull it off the grid,” she said. The life of the turbine is between 25-30 years. Dawson explained that typically the blades are the first to wear out and to replace a blade costs $700.
    In addition to the grant for the wind turbine, Dawson also applied for the Illinois Wind for Schools Program sponsored by Illinois State University and Western Illinois University. She won that grant as well and purchased a weather station. This supplemental grant also allows for students to have their own individual turbines and study blade design. It, too, will provide real-time data for weather, wind power and solar power. Currently, it is mounted to the school roof, but Dawson hopes to move it to the top of the turbine. She would also like to have a computer kiosk located in a central location in the school so students or teachers can pull up the data anytime. To monitor weather at Riverview Grade School from home, visit and enter the identification: kileastp5 in the search box.

    Dawson enjoys teaching science and likes lessons that are hands-on. She said hands-on science helps students relate the lesson to the real world. Last school year she won the Illinois Science Teachers Association Outstanding Illinois Teachers of Science. Writing grants has been her way to provide a better science experience for her students.
    Dawson is using plants such as spider wart, bluegrass, various asters, butterfly weed, and black eyed susans in the prairie. All together she has 35 different native Illinois plants. During the work day, fifth- through seventh-graders helped build reading decks. First graders got into the action and helped by spreading straw in the prairie beds.

    “Our school gives $150 per teacher for all of the classes we teach. I teach fifth-eighth grade science and that was to cover supplies and materials for all of them. That amount paid for shipping fees one year for chemicals I needed. The rest of the materials I got were out of my own pocket. I wanted students to enjoy special projects so I needed to raise money. The first grant I applied for was from Toshiba. I won $1,000 to build robots. Then it turned into any grant I came across, I applied for it,” said Dawson.
    In three years, she has been awarded $58,517 in grants to help her students have science materials for projects they would not have otherwise been able to have. She credits her last year’s seventh graders, including those in special education, the accomplishment of 100 percent meeting or exceeding the science portion of the ISAT tests.
    In turn, her students have been involved in the building process of the turbine. On a recent Saturday, Dawson held a work day. Students and their parents were welcome to come to school and help with measuring, digging, and building various structures. Not only did students and parents come and help, but several local businesses donated materials or labor to help with Dawson’s grant project.
    Finishing touches are being placed on her outdoor classroom as well. Dawson was awarded the Schoolyard Wildlife Habitat Development Grant through the partnership of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Conservation Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. It is a national initiative to get children outside and into nature without needing to travel beyond their own schoolyard. Riverview Grade School is one out of 11 schools in the state of Illinois to receive this grant. Dawson chose to construct a reading area in a prairie using native Illinois plants. Andrew DiAllesandro of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped by Riverview Grade School to monitor Dawson’s progress and answer any of her questions. He said, “I’m impressed. She rocked and rolled it this year.”
    Across the school yard is the compost area. Dawson approached the school’s student council about including cafeteria waste. The student council took her suggestion and has started composting daily cafeteria waste.
    Two of Dawson’s students are sixth graders Morgen Bishel and Kadin Hyatt. They have been involved in planning where the wind turbine will go to constructing parts of the outdoor classroom. Bishel said she liked “learning about what the wind turbine will do. I’m excited to see it work. I’d like to use the outdoor class because it’s fun to work outside. I like learning outside. The more we do, the more excited the other grades get.”
    Hyatt said he likes “helping our school pay for some of our energy. It won’t be all but it will be some. I liked building the deck. I nailed some of the boards together. I’m looking forward to using it in the spring. I hope the younger kids realize how much work went into this and I hope they continue to use it when they’re in junior high.”
    Dawson said she will continue to search for grants to apply for in order to provide more for her students. She said, “We’re becoming the school that others can visit to make it easier to start the process of becoming a ‘wind school.’ I’m glad I get to teach about it. I could talk about it and show pictures in a textbook, but it’s right here. I’d much rather do that. It sends a message in a concrete way. Who knows? Down the road this could be a career for someone in my class.”
    Source: Chicago The Times Bulletin 

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