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Student energy team reaches out to eager younger learners at ACGC

Youth Energy Summit! student Danny Shoen, right, holds a small photovoltaic collector as part of his demonstration on solar power last week to students Josh Kinzler, from left, Taylor Skappel, Shayla Mead, Jeana Denton and Kaitlyn Lee. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny1 / 2
Taylor Skappel reacts when he learns that he is touching composted cow manure. Also shown are students Erica Bagley, center back, and Mykal Barker, left, and YES student and presenter Kayla Morse, right. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)2 / 2

ATWATER -- Shoppers in Atwater, Cosmos and Grove City are showing their school pride by saying "no'' to disposable plastic bags and carrying their own reusable bags sporting the ACGC Falcon and school colors.

The movement is in line with the school district adopting a wide range of energy conservation strategies in its buildings. The district trimmed electrical use by an estimated 5 percent this winter, saving hundreds of dollars a month.

Now, the people behind making both of these steps possible are focusing their energies on the district's two elementary schools, two areas they feel they'll make the greatest impact.

That's where ACGC's Youth Energy Summit! team hosted its own energy and environment fair for some 400 students Wednesday.

"It's much easier. They listen,'' said grinning YES! student Kayla Morse when asked why she had suggested hosting the event for young people.

The elementary students did more than listen. The event offered them a hands-on experience in learning about energy conservation and practices. Morse offered her visiting students the opportunity to sniff and poke their fingers into different types of compost, some of it made from pizza boxes and some from cow manure.

"It's really fun to see their reactions,'' she laughed.

No one was probably having more fun than ACGC science teacher Tami Bennett-Tait, who serves as the coach to the YES! team. She had to have gulped when the idea of engaging 400 elementary students in hands-on activities was first raised.

But the coach said she was more than pleased by how well it all went. The older students offered 14 different learning topics, ranging from hydro and solar power to the environmental and health harms posed by open burn barrels. Each of the YES! Students -- who are eighth-graders through 12th-graders -- offered their own ideas, Bennett-Tait said.

The YES! students said their younger audience proved to have an interest in the topics at the fair. "I think they really do,'' said YES! student Samantha Ehrenberg.

She used a meter to demonstrate to the students the "phantom'' electric power consumed by many electronic goods when they are not turned on, as well as the differences in electric demand between incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs and other types of appliances.

Having some 400 elementary students thinking about energy and conservation can only help the cause of the YES! students. Bennett-Tait said the group remains committed to finding ways to reduce the school's energy usage: They're not satisfied with a 5 percent reduction and want to shoot for 10 to 15 percent, she said.

"We have a ways to go,'' Bennett-Tait said.

The students also have plans for constructing a compost site for school lunch wastes.

And, they remain committed to promoting their school and black, silver and teal "green'' Falcon shopping bags. Anybody bringing in 100 plastic, throw-away bags gets an environmentally friendly bag showing their school pride.

The Youth Energy Summit! is an educational opportunity offered in participating school districts in partnership with the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and Southwest Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

This year, teams at 20 different schools are involved in projects.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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