St. Johnsbury Academy is trying to win an honor it's never sought before, and "If we win it," Tom Lovett, the school's headmaster, says, "we hope we never win it again."
Sparked and energized by a senior year Capstone research project conducted by Lucas Wilkins and Michael LeClerc, both Waterford residents, the Academy is the first large Vermont independent school to compete in the annual Green Cup Challenge, a program conducted by the national Green Schools Alliance organization to encourage schools to identify and implement ways to reduce campus electricity use and Greenhouse Gas (carbon dioxide) emissions.
The first Challenge, launched in 2006, was among three boarding schools: Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H.; Northfield Mount Hermon in Mount Hermon, Mass.; and the Lawrenceville (New Jersey) School. A year later, the effort included 15 boarding schools and was added as a Green School Alliance nationwide program. Public schools first entered the competition in 2008, when two Atlanta, Ga. schools accepted the Challenge.
The competition is now open to any public private, charter or independent K-12 school, according to the Challenge Website, www.greencupchallege.net.
Schools participating in the 2011 event reduced their electrical consumption by a total of nearly 1.1 million kilowatt hours (kWh), an average 4.5 percent reduction from their identified and documented "baseline" energy use at the start of competition, Wilkins and LeClerc told Academy administrators, teachers and staff during a Jan. 9 presentation. The effort also reduced about 1.4 million pounds of power plant carbon dioxide emissions nationwide, they added.
The Academy's participation in this year's competition period, scheduled Jan. 18 through Feb. 15, begins with Wilkins and LeClerc establishing and documenting the school's typical electrical consumption for the January/February billing cycle, using utility bills for the past three years, and determining the total number of building square footage that is heated or cooled.
During the competition period, the students will read the Academy's electrical meters once a week, compute the weekly usage, and enter the results in the Green Cup Challenge database.
Faculty and staff members providing the students administrative and technical support include Tammy Talotta, a controller in the school's business office providing electrical use billing information; Dennis Smith, the Academy's building and grounds maintenance supervisor, who is helping with the square footage calculations; electricity and electronics teacher Michael Bugbee; and English instructor James Bentley, a member of an already established faculty-student group working to promote energy and environmental conservation measures, including composting food waste from the Academy dining hall and school-wide recycling.
The student-led Academy's Challenge effort also incorporates and builds on a Capstone research project undertaken during the first semester by senior Ningyi Xi, a boarding student from China, designed to develop ways to encourage Academy, faculty, staff and students to lower their energy use.
Before and during the competition period, the students will conduct a series of presentations and other efforts to increase awareness of simple, easily adapted conservation measures, including shutting off lights when leaving rooms or they are unneeded, unplugging already-charged electronic devices, and avoiding small laundry loads whenever possible, and others.
Wilkins and LeClerc's portion of project also includes encouraging other area schools to join the Challenge competition while Xi continue to focus primarily on building support at the Academy.
"So far, the Riverside School in Lyndon, the Good Shepherd Catholic School (in St. Johnsbury) and the Lyndon Town School have expressed interest, so we'll be doing presentations there," LeClerc said. "We're hoping other schools will be interested, too."
"Our goal is to leave this place (both the Academy and community at-large) better than we found it," he added.
Wilkins and LeClerc also said their selection of the Challenge as a senior research project is rooted in their shared interest in pursuing careers as professional electricians.
"We both took the Academy's (introductory) Electricity course as sophomores and really liked it, so we later took the job-site class, too," Wilkins said. "Mr. Bentley knew about that interest, so this year he told us about the Green Cup Challenge and asked if the idea of getting the Academy involved appealed to us."
The idea also sounded good to Lovett.
"It's a great project and winning the Green Cup Challenge would be fantastic, but we only want to win it once," he said after the student's Jan. 9 Academy in-service presentation.
The champion is the school that reduces its electrical consumption by the largest percentage and "I'm hoping we can lower our use as much as possible the first time," the headmaster explained. SJA will compete in the competition's Northeast Boarding Schools division, which included 41 schools last year. The Winchendon (Massachusetts) School won the 2011 division title after reducing its electrical consumption 22.5 percent during the competition period.
Additional information about the national Green Cup Challenge program is available through its Website, www.greencupchallenge.net.