Lindsay Snoddy, Environmental Compliance Manager for ACPS, showing the solar thermal panels on the roof of Henley Middle School

Albemarle County Public Schools is conserving energy and teaching students green lessons while doing so.

At its annual conference in Williamsburg, the Virginia School Boards Association honored Albemarle with the top environmental prize in the “Green Schools Challenge,” which encourages divisions to implement practices and policies to reduce their carbon footprints. 

“This is a highly meaningful award that signifies several benefits for our county,” said Dean Tistadt, the school division’s Chief Operating Officer. “The environmental efficiencies we have been able to achieve in our buildings have allowed us to reduce our budget for utility and energy costs.”

Since 2009, Albemarle has saved $400,000 by upgrading lighting and operating equipment. Additionally, 23 of the division’s 26 schools are recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star certification program.

Nowhere are the efficiencies more apparent than at Henley Middle School’s Renewable Energy Resource Center, which features solar photovoltaic panels, a solar thermal system that heats water, and a wind turbine. The Center, which was funded in large part by a grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, has produced 120,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and prevented 88 tons of carbon dioxide emissions since 2012.

Susan Guerrant, Albemarle’s Environmental Coordinator, said the new technology also serves as a learning opportunity for the students.

“Our 6th grade science students complete an extensive sustainability unit, and our 7th grade math students work on project-based learning by applying their interpretation of data collected from Henley renewables to scale model residencies,” Guerrant said. “Our 8th grade students include our renewables when they study the transfer of energy concepts.”

Student AJ Donovan, who helped design many of the Center’s interpretive signage, said he gained new knowledge about the technology.

“In 7th grade science we learned a lot about the solar panels and the type of energy that is used, like AC/DC, and what they’re applied to,” Donovan said.

What’s more, Donovan said, is how project-based learning helps bring lessons to life.

“I think it helps to put it in an actual situation,” Donovan said. “It helps you think a lot better more quickly because you need to find a solution.”

In addition to harnessing the wind and sun, Crozet and Meriwether Lewis elementary schools, and Jack Jouett and Sutherland middle schools have developed composting programs. These schools kept more than 126 tons of food from landfills and reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 900 metric tons.

“We are continuing to improve our sustainability performance by setting ambitious objectives,” said Lindsay Check Snoddy, the school division’s Environmental Compliance Manager. “Our current goals are to further reduce our use of energy, expand our commercial composting program, and improve our conservation of water.”