Sacred Heart going solar

L’Anse – Students headed back to school this week at Sacred Heart School in L’Anse have a few new things to look forward to – a new nature studies curriculum that starts from day one and the eventual installation of solar panels to make the school electrically self-sufficient.

The K-7 Catholic school hopes to install a 3.3 kilowatt pole-mounted solar array as soon as this fall, and a larger 25 kilowatts array when more funds can be raised. Together, according to solar specialist Rick Werner of Werner Electric Supply, they should be enough to offset the school’s electric bill over the course of the year.

The cost for the solar installation is estimated at about $120,000, and Chimene and Charlie Puska of U.P. Green are managing a fundraiser to raise the cash, selling off-the-grid solar projects such as solar camping lanterns, solar spotlights and recreational vehicle solar panels.

“With matching grants, we’re looking at under $60,000 or less,” said Chimene Puska, who noted Sacred Heart’s would be the first large-scale school installation in the region.

“We’re getting a phenomenal price per kilowatts,” she added, noting that Werner and his supplier, Solarland USA Corp., have teamed up to help with costs at all phases of the project, with wholesale prices on the school’s panels, exclusive discounts on the off-grid fundraising products, and a commitment of a $100 donation to the school’s installation for each kilowatts of solar installed in home or business solar projects booked through the fundraiser.

Sacred Heart Principal Dr. Eric Grekowicz said the solar project will do much more than save the school money.

“The Catholic Church tells us we’re stewards of nature,” he said. “If we can put solar panels in we’re fulfilling that … while enhancing nature, not destroying it. If we use no fossil fuels, we’re better people in how we’re getting our energy.”

They’ll also be a teaching tool for the nature studies curriculum, he said. Students will have the chance to observe and maybe even help out during installation, teaching them hands-on skills, and they’ll also monitor energy creation through a wi-fi monitoring system and incorporate what they learn into a variety of subjects.

Solar data can help them understand “seasons, the time of day, all kinds of math and science data,” Grekowicz said.

It’ll all be a part of the nature studies curriculum, which Grekowicz said “begins with the idea that God has created everything, (then) takes us into philosophy and theology, along with traditional science.”

In practice, he said, that means as much as possible working in the field rather than out of textbooks, often through field work at the school’s Pequaming nature property.

“The idea behind nature studies is to replicate what scientists have already done,” he said. “Mendel got ideas from watching plants in his garden. Monseigneur LeMaitre was watching stars and developed the big bang theory, which may have been how God made the universe. If kids can watch a grasshopper, watch what it’s doing, and then record it, now they’re doing science.”

Sacred Heart student Hannah Halpin said she’s looking forward to nature studies, while parent and board member Kerri Sikkila said she was excited her kids would get the chance to participate in the solar installation.

“It’s a great opportunity for our school,” she said, noting that she’s already bought from the fundraiser a camping lantern outfitted with a USB port to charge cell phones or laptops.

“I was impressed with the product,” she said.

Puska said Solarland’s discount helps U.P. Green sell the high-quality off-grid fundraising products below market value, while still getting the school a healthy return. Each $70 lantern, for example, will net the school $20 for it solar project.

To view the fundraising products and order online, go to upgreenrecycling.com/UPG-Solar-Schools.html.