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Students at Local Schools Work to Conserve Electricity

Across the Washington metro area, students are actively helping schools to use less energy and save money. Some school systems mandate energy conservation, while others have voluntary programs or have just started pilot programs with a small number of schools.


Every school in Montgomery County, Maryland, is required to have a School Energy & Recycling Team (SERT), comprised of students, teachers, parents, building managers and staff from the principal’s office. MCPS data shows that 15 percent of the electricity used in a school is wasted by lights, computers and other non-HVAC equipment left on when not in use, so there is a lot of room for both energy and dollar savings.

The teams measure energy use and recycling against a baseline year and must use at least 5 percent less energy than that baseline year. Students conduct audits tallying all of the electrical equipment in the school. They also remind teachers to turn out classroom lights, desk lights and computers when not in use.

The Montgomery County Principal’s Handbook contains energy conservation guidelines that should be followed for efficient building management. Schools practice environmental stewardship and implement energy saving strategies and active recycling programs to earn quarterly awards. Anyone can check the data online. Thirty-one schools made the Great Energy Management (GEM) list — the highest award — in 2008-2009.

Anyone can check the data online to see how each Montgomery school is doing.

The District

In DC, 15 schools just completed the first year of the Saving Energy in DC Schools program, an initiative by the Alliance to Save Energy and the D.C. Department of the Environment to promote better energy use at schools.

Here’s how it worked: sixth-graders at the 15 schools collected data on temperature, light levels and wattage of appliances and then calculated cost of electricity per classroom. Students made recommendations to principals about how to save energy. In the first year, schools reduced energy use 5 to 15 percent, saving thousands of dollars in utility costs. (See Washington Post story about the program)


Over in Arlington, 13 elementary schools have completed environmental projects as part of the Green Learning Challenge, sponsored by Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment. The projects included energy conservation, recycling, gardening, outdoor learning, stewardship and water quality protection.

The Alexandria public schools do not seem to be “going green” on the same scale as other jurisdictions, but they do have one school – Maury Elementary – which has been participating in an EnergyStar contest. Each class at Maury has been evaluated weekly for paper recycling, turning off classroom lights and putting computers in hibernation (or off) at lunchtime.

In addition, Alexandria boasts a green school –- T.C. Williams High School, which in 2007 re-opened in a new, environmentally friendly building. T.C. Williams won a Green Innovation Award from the Virginia Sustainable Building Network.