McLain Students See Future in Renewable Energy

Tucked outside in a back corner of McLain Junior High School for Science and Technology is a fenced green space that accommodates a greenhouse, raised garden beds, a large wooden shed and an iron pole erecting 12 solar panels angled toward the sky. The solar panels supply year around energy to the greenhouse and the shed’s air conditioning, heater, fans and lights. And, the solar panels supply the McLain environmental science students with a hands-on opportunity to study renewable energy.

The McLain greenhouse was built in 1988 when the magnet school’s academic curriculum included an agricultural program. But, as curriculum and faculty changed, the greenhouse and gardens did not receive the attention and use by students and teachers.  Time had aged the fans, heating, air conditioning and lighting systems in the greenhouse, and the raised beds had become overgrown with weeds.

“When I came to McLain in 2008 to teach environmental science the greenhouse and raised beds had become overgrown,” said Marsha Campbell, McLain 2010 Teacher of the Year. “I knew that if we could clean this place up, it would become a student learning lab on plants and the environment.”

Last year Campbell got her wish. Through the help of late community activist, Steve Eberle, Sustainable Tulsa Executive Director Corey Williams, North Tulsa community advocates and McLain teachers and students, the greenhouse and its grounds once again became a plant haven. Students now monitor seedlings in the greenhouse and tend to vegetables and flowers in the raised beds. And, said Campbell, the gardens and greenhouse offer great therapy for students who just need a break from the classroom.

“We all came together to help Ms. Campbell renew the greenhouse and garden in order to maximize the teaching environment for the students,” Williams said. “The greenhouse and garden renovation led us to the creation of the McLain Renewable Energy Project.”

The project’s main objective is to provide hands-on experience for students to design a renewable energy system. Renewable energy is energy that comes from natural resources such as sunlight or wind

The project is a partnership between McLain, Sustainable Tulsa, The Rotary Club of Southside Tulsa, Tulsa Community College  (TCC) North East Campus Renewable Energy Program and the Oklahoma Indian Health Care Resource Center. Funding for the solar panel system came from the Henry Bellmon Awards Gala, AT&T and the Williams Companies.

McLain students shadowed TCC’s Renewable Energy Design class as they designed the solar panel system. ION Solar of Tulsa’s Seth Christ installed the solar panels and removed solar panels from McLain’s old solar car that was no longer in use and placed them on the shed’s roof. Inside the shed he installed four large batteries and numerous panels that offer continual readings of energy levels.

“The panels and boxes allow students to observe the flow of current. They can monitor how much radiant energy is being used and stored at any time of day and see what shading does to the amount of energy gathered. This type of exposure ties into basic chemistry, physics and math” Campbell said.

Campbell’s 20 environmental science students have the opportunity to concurrently enroll in several of TCC’s environmental science classes and can earn college credit for taking a renewable energy course at McLain.

“Our kids now see their opportunity in college. This gives kids the idea that they can take what they have learned and continue it not only in college, but also as a career. They are getting ready for two pathways, green jobs and engineering. Because we are a magnet school, we believe in a very integrative teaching system,” Campbell said. “The greenhouse project is right in line with how we like to teach and let students experience hands-on science and technology.”

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