June 2, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson
ALEXANDRIA, Ky.

Kids Teaching Kids is the NEED project's unique educational approach.

Energy isn’t free, but children and adults in northern Kentucky are learning how to make it more economical with the power of the sun.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in Campbell County recently installed solar panels at its Environmental Education Center near Alexandria through a partnership with the Kentucky Division of Energy, American Electric Power and the Kentucky branch of the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project.

“We see a real value in showing children and adults that solar power is a reality and it can be done,” said D.J. Scully, Extension agent for natural resources and environmental management. “Energy isn’t free so we need to manage our resources better.”

The solar panels at the center are mounted on a pole instead of the building for greater visibility. The panels also are connected to the energy grid and are able to supply power to the center. Scully said it will take a few months to see just how much energy they will produce. It may be enough to power a few light bulbs or a water heater. However, he said eventually it may supply more power than they use in the center since the building is not used everyday.

“If we produce more than we use, we may be able to sell back the excess to the local utility,” he said.

One interesting aspect of the project is that it can be monitored on the Internet and compared to other sites around the state, country and even worldwide locations such as the Galapagos Islands.

At the recent ribbon-cutting for the panels, sixth graders from Saint Therese School in Southgate got to teach their peers and adults in attendance unique facts about solar power.

“The students were trained to facilitate activities about the properties of solar energy,” said Rita Strohm, St. Therese science teacher. “These properties can be applied to our homes – heating of water and air. “

Some activities included roasting small items like marshmallows in solar ovens. The students also discussed heating and temperature conversions from Celsius to Fahrenheit. Strohm said the activities included all academic subject areas from language arts and math to social studies, science and beyond.

Karen Reagor, executive director of Kentucky NEED, said they provide curriculum and learning kits to teachers and students so they can incorporate real life experiences with technology and science to learn about energy. Their focus is “Kids Teaching Kids.”

“We find that when the students take ownership of not only their own learning but also for other students, it gets them excited and they enjoy it,” she said. “It gives them a little different twist to their learning experience.”

Reagor also pointed out that the students work in small groups, and they’ll have to work in groups like this in the “real world.” It’s very much a life skills approach to learning, she added.

NEED is active in 45 states and three United States territories. Kentucky was recently named NEED state of the year which Reagor attributes to the work of the schools involved as well as the Cooperative Extension efforts. Two Kentucky schools won national awards for their involvement.

The solar panel project cost more than $10,000 to get started. That didn’t include the cost of the solar panels themselves, which were donated. All the partners shared the costs and 
Scully believes that will pay off in the future.

“In the future someone may put in a solar panel at their house because of what they saw here,” he said. “The savings they recoup may be well worth the investment we made.”

The bottom line is that energy affects everything going on in the world and the choices consumers make impact so many things from the environment and energy availability, to the economy and politics, Reagor said.

Contact: 

Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Source: D.J. Scully 859-572-2600