Left to right: Ekalaka Grade School 6th Grade Teacher, Susan Tooke, 6th grade student Kennedy Tooke, 4th grade student Hannah LaBree and Southeast Electric Cooperative Member Services Rep. Marlene Waterland.
When Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that a team of students from rural Carter County, Montana, had won the America’s Home Energy Education Challenge, Southeast Electric Cooperative’s Marlene Waterland was thrilled. Last summer Waterland, after spotting a notice for the competition, contacted local school superintendents Lynn Williams and Allison Hardin. Together, the three began an ambitious project involving all five schools in Carter County. Their work paid off both in energy savings and a $15,000 cash prize for the schools.
The national student competition is designed to encourage students and their families to start saving money by saving energy. The judges, who are science teachers, evaluated entries based the inclusion of multiple schools, student participation, energy savings and a final report. At least 94 schools and 120,000 students participated nationwide.
The Carter County team – Alzada Elementary School, Carter County High School, Ekalaka Elementary School (K-8th grade), Hammond School (K-8th grade) and Hawks Home School – was declared the national winner for successfully reducing their home energy use by 3.4 percent.
“By engaging America's students at a young age to apply the math and science skills they're learning at school to our energy challenges, the Obama Administration is working to ensure that these bright minds have the tools they need to lead our nation's clean energy future," said Secretary Chu. "America's Home Energy Education Challenge is helping to unleash the ingenuity, creativity, and drive from these inspiring students to demonstrate simple ways that families and businesses can reduce energy use and save money through energy efficiency."
“Southeast Electric Cooperative has shown what it means to be a cooperative by engaging with the community – from age 5 on up -- and finding new ways to improve the quality of life for their consumer members,” said NRECA CEO Glenn English.
Waterland, a member services representative at the co-op credits the students, who were required to submit an action plan for reducing their household’s energy use. One action plan included substituting a firepit for the oven and using torches. Students and their families then put the plans – at least those parts of the plans deemed safe and viable – into action.
Energy-saving actions included turning off lights (including Christmas lights), putting timers on vehicle and tractor engine block heaters, lowering the temperature of washing machines. According to Waterland, one student read “101 Ways to Save Energy” (a Touchstone Energy publication) to her family in its entirety. One household reduced its energy consumption by forty percent, winning $100.
“It is absolutely essential that students have a solid foundation in math and science to compete in a global world. I am very proud of the students in Carter County for using those skills to make their state and country a better place for everyone by reducing their energy use,” said Governor Brian Schweitzer, who along with First Lady Nancy Schweitzer, have a math and science initiative for Montana students. “The skills they have learned for this project will be valuable for the rest of their lives.”
The five schools will share the $15,000 they won as both a regional winner and as the national champion. Secretary Chu made the announcement on a conference call with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Dr. Gerald Wheeler, Interim Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association and Waterland.
America’s Home Energy Education Challenge educates America’s youth about the benefits of energy efficiency, motivates students to play an active role in how their families use energy, and helps families across the country save money by saving energy. The program encourages students, teachers, and families to learn more about energy consumption and efficiency while also becoming more aware of how homes, schools, and utilities are interconnected within the community. It also hopes to inspire students to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.