A week ago, we profiled Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s California Solar in Schools Initiative, a program that encourages students to learn about solar energy. Under the initiative, the California utility has funded the installation of 125 solar energy systems at public K-12 schools since 2004. This week, we take a closer look at one of those schools.

Situated in Butte County among the northwest foothills of California’s Central Valley, the Paradise Intermediate School serves the area’s middle school students. A requisite for all sixth graders is the school’s Evergreen 6th Grade Academy, a program that, according to its mission statement, works “in close partnership with parents and the local community to develop the students of our program as whole individuals.”

Paradise Intermediate School installed solar with PG&E's Solar in Schools initiative
Paradise Intermediate School in Butte County is part of the Paradise Unified School District.

In 2004, the academy — known within the school as Evergreen 6 — applied for a PG&E solar schools installation grant. Two years later, they had their 1.06 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) system installed. The system now helps to power their library and computer lab.

“I’ve never seen any program like it,” said Greg Holman, a science and math teacher at Evergreen. Holman was one of over 100 public school teachers from around the state to attend a solar training workshop in Sacramento, a day-long program about the history of energy and how it relates to solar. The class is part of the initiative, aimed to equip teachers with skills to incorporate solar lessons into their curriculum.

“I was a beginner,” said Holman about his solar knowledge prior to the seminar. “Now I’m at intermediate.”

Holman says that PG&E has “been huge” in keeping up with the program at their school. “The installers talk to students, and Karalee is always a phone call away.” Karalee Browne is PG&E’s Solar Schools Program Manager.

“Greg has been very enthusiastic about the project throughout the entire process,” she said.

Browne says PG&E is looking beyond solar, trying to partner with California school districts to improve school lunches and water usage. The company’s Bright Ideas grants are a means to that end, providing funds for teacher training and other sustainable measures on California campuses.

Evergreen 6 was awarded a Bright Ideas grant in fall 2007. They used the funds to purchase Sun Ovens, which students use to prepare their own lunches and snacks on warm days. The sixth graders are now creating a solar cookbook in a fundraising effort to purchase a Sun Oven for a village in Congo, whose residents still rely on wood for cooking.

Evergreen Academy with Solar Ovens
Students of the Evergreen Academy stand behind the Sun Ovens, purchased with funds received from PG&E’s Bright Ideas grant.

“Our whole identity has changed to solar,” said Holman, adding that the community has taken note of the project and businesses have come to talk to the school about solar energy. “It’s really neat to have students explain it them.”

More info: See Evergreen Video “What we Do That’s Green.”