The abstract and faraway don’t always sustain the interest of the young.
Place- and community-based education makes learning relevant.
Gregory Smith and David Sobel
Ayear ago, when one of our sons was a senior in high school, he participated in a class project that involved investigating how his school could reduce energy con- sumption and waste. The district had
recently embarked on a sustainability campaign aimed at
changing how it managed its physical plant as well as its
Eliot and his classmates decided to investigate how
much it would cost to produce all of the electrical power
used in the building with solar panels. This required
his team to gather records about annual electricity consumption and cost as well as to determine the size of a
solar array capable of producing this much power. The
team found that the price tag to install such an array
would be in excess of $1 million and that the payback
period for the investment would be more than 20 years.
Other students investigated less expensive innovations,
such as using compostable plates, bowls, and flatware in
the school cafeteria and installing waterless urinals. Later
in the spring, students shared their findings with school
leaders and an architectural team working with the district to design two new elementary schools.
A year later, the district is implementing some of
their ideas: The school cafeteria will now serve food on
biodegradable plastic, the schools are no longer selling
bottled water, and the high school has installed drinking
fountains with the capacity to fill personal water bottles.
By tapping into student commitment and creativity, the
district has benefited from students’ innovative thinking
and given them a chance to make long-lasting contributions to the school.
Similar projects are happening in other communities.
Students in Idaho, for example, complete energy audits