Area Students Urge Movement Towards a Clean Energy Future with Essay Contest
When it comes to concerns about the environment, Iowa County high school students are very similar to their peers across the country. Polling of the Gen Z population (ages 8-23) indicates that young folks nation-wide are concerned about Earth’s environment, so much so that 80% report anxiety over climate change is affecting their mental health. However, they aren’t just wringing their hands; they’re taking action and looking for others to do the same. In fact, four out of five Gen Zers report they have personally taken steps to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. Iowa County high school students are doing the same.
Students know their schools can play a central role in fostering climate-smart practices. Iowa County school districts operate some of the largest physical structures in their respective communities and require a lot of energy to maintain. Lighting and HVAC systems run 365 days a year making energy costs the next largest expenditure for school districts after personnel. So there are huge opportunities to both save energy dollars and to reduce harmful emissions. Iowa County students are asking their school districts to take intentional steps toward the transition to a cost-saving clean energy future. One way many students have done so is by entering the Clean Energy Transition Plan Essay Contest, an initiative of DALC's CLEA-N project.
Clean Energy Grants Inspire Essay Contest
When CLEA-N members learned about funding opportunities that support school districts in reducing energy costs, they were eager to help Iowa County schools take advantage of these opportunities. Directly involving students is one way to encourage schools to take action. The Solar on Schools (SOS) and Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy programs offer financial assistance to reduce the cost of adding solar to school buildings. SOS grants generally cover about 20% of the cost to purchase and install solar panels. Solar on Schools and Focus on Energy grants have helped school districts throughout Wisconsin save hundreds of thousands of energy dollars over the coming years. The Wisconsin Association of School Board (WASB)’s newsletter notes that already in 2021 nearly 250 K-12 schools throughout the state were saving money with on-site solar generation. Many of these districts took advantage of the Focus on Energy and Solar on Schools programs to offset costs to install solar.
How best to take that first step down a clean energy path? WASB reports that many school districts have found that creating a Clean Energy Transition Team is a smart first step in exploring the benefits of adding solar. These teams are comprised of school staff and board members, students, and members of the community. Teams often begin by looking for ways to increase energy efficiencies. They also research the various funding assistance and low-cost green loan programs that are available, and they begin building relationships with area solar contractors.
Encouraging Clean Energy Transition Plans
CLEA-N encourages Iowa County School Districts to take that first important step of creating a clean energy transition plan. The essay contest was created as a means for students to spark that first step. The theme for the contest was “Why my School District Needs a Clean Energy Transition Plan.”
Students from all five Iowa County high schools participated, including Barneveld, Dodgeville, Highland, Iowa-Grant, and Mineral Point. Between athletics, music, drama and other club offerings, high schoolers have a lot of options for filling their free time. Writing an essay isn’t likely on the top of the list for most students. To make the research and writing more attractive, teachers were invaluable in helping students find information and offering extra credit for the completed work. Additionally, generous funding from Silicon Sensors made it possible to offer cash awards for the top three essays from each school. The first prize award was $250, second was $125, and third place essay writer in each school was awarded $75. Essays were judged on the accuracy of their information, the persuasiveness of the essay, neatness and English usage. Participants could earn bonus points for reading their essay to their class and additional points for presenting their essay at a school board meeting.
Congratulations to the award winners and their teachers!
Read the essays that won first place from each school:
Barneveld High School
Teacher: Mark Sturnick
Dodgeville High School
Teachers: Karri Wasley and Tyler Vargo
Highland High School
Teacher: Shane Kieler
Iowa-Grant High School
Teachers: Mandy Rosemeyer and Anna Yelinek
Mineral Point High School
Teacher: Erin Sincox
CLEA-N would like to thank the Dodgeville Chronicle for covering this important initiative. CLEA-N invites anyone who would like to support their schools in taking steps down the path to cleaner energy future to get in touch. Contact Chuck - Charles@DriftlessConservancy.org