(L-R) Steve Cronemeyer, Adam Mulcahy, James Mahoney, John Werner, Andrew Dunstan, Nelson Teague and Ann H. Mallek

The new Environmental Sciences Academy at Western Albemarle High School took another step forward Monday, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation.

The funds, which will be applied to solar panels the Academy students will design, build and install on a greenhouse planned for next year, are part of a project called Going off the Grid with Verizon.

“The Verizon Foundation seeks powerful answers to large societal problems, and the Environmental Studies Academy is a great example of the type of work we support,” said Steve Cronemeyer, Verizon’s government affairs manager. “The engagement of students in STEM subjects and the application of their knowledge to help the school reduce its carbon footprint is a perfect fit.”

Academy director Adam Mulcahy said the grant offers “multiple returns on investment.”

“It enables us to study subject areas that are central to our curriculum and also of interest to Verizon—alternative energy and sustainable practices,” Mulcahy said. “It also builds upon an important strength for our academy—our ability to involve outside experts as partners in the academy’s educational mission.”

Albemarle Supervisor Ann H. Mallek praised the program and said thinking beyond the walls of the school builds interest in the community.

“The possibility for apprenticeships in our agricultural community and the engineering field with this academy are huge,” said Mallek, who studied Zoology and Ecology at Connecticut College. “I hope that the students will have the same success and happiness in their lives working in this arena as I have.”

The new solar array, Mulcahy said, will complement the renewable practices already in place at nearby Henley Middle School. Since 2011, Henley has operated a solar and wind energy project that has provided enough electricity to power 1,000 60-watt light bulbs for one year.

On Wednesday, the Academy will welcome its first cohort of 25 students. Like the academies at Monticello and Albemarle high schools, Western plans to add between 40 and 50 students each year, with a maximum of 200.

James Mahoney, an incoming freshman, said he’s excited about the opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to being creative and inventive, and having that hands-on work and practice in the field,” Mahoney said. “I’ll actually learn what it’s like and see what I might want to do with my life in the sciences.”

Andrew Dunstan, a rising freshman interested in alternative energy sources, said he’s looking forward to hands-on learning.

“I definitely remember things a lot better if I’m actually doing it, as opposed to just listening and writing it down,” Dunstan said.

The Academy’s curriculum will feature two tracks. Students can choose to conduct field research and project-based study, or pursue an applied path that addresses real-world environmental problems.

“Our goal is to provide students with the hands-on experience and digital portfolios that will prepare them for a wide range of career options in such areas as entrepreneurial activities, business, consulting, or regulatory agencies,” Mulcahy said. “Graduates certainly could qualify for industrial, legal, scientific operations, or policy positions, and of course, in education.”