Energy Conservation Challenge leads to Student Empowerment in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage Public Schools

The “191 Battle of the Buildings” (modeled after the EPA’s national contest) was a challenge for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 to reduce their Carbon Footprint.  Energy reductions (calculated from buildings that saved) resulted in nearly 9% in energy reductions for the district. 

The MN GreenCorps program is a statewide AmeriCorps program, administered through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).  Member Jothsna Harris will be serving in District 191 for a total of 11 months, with a focus on energy conservation.  More information about the MN GreenCorps, please visit The MPCA website at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/.

Battle of the BuildingsIn the recent “191 Battle of the Buildings” energy competition, held in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191, Sioux Trail Elementary took first place with a staggering overall reduction of 29.1% in energy use in the five-week long challenge.  When asked about the secret to their success, Shannon McParland, Principal of Sioux Trail discloses, “It was truly a student-led effort which staff supported and embraced.  More important than the initial savings was the opportunity to educate and empower the next generation of consumers.”

The five week-long energy competition, coordinated by MN GreenCorps Energy Conservation Member Jothsna Harris, challenged ISD 191 buildings to “battle” for the greatest % in energy use reductions.  Measurements were based on meter readings taken by the custodial department, to determine week over week most improved.  Energy data from the previous year was also utilized to increase accuracy.  The goals of the challenge were to reduce ISD 191’s Carbon Footprint, while having fun and igniting some healthy competition.

Energy Alert!The effort in Sioux Trail started when the Student Council saw the Battle of the Buildings as an opportunity for and ran with the entire initiative. Student Council created the weekly “energy alert” infomercials that helped to create a sense of community, excitement and generate buy-in.  Denise Engberg, Media and Transportation Educational Assistant, was instrumental in the production of the “alerts.”  She shares that, overlapping with the super hero theme for I Love to Read Month was a natural fit.  Based on the story line formed by students, the creative videos depict an imaginary “battle” between Sioux Trail heroes, Prideman and Shadow against the now infamous super villain, Volt-A-More, who gains power from wasted energy.   The only way to defeat this “invisible” enemy was for students to defend Sioux Trail by saving energy.  Engberg recalls, “Students were heard saying things like, “turn off those lights, we need to help Prideman and Shadow!”  Or “turn off that computer monitor, so we keep the power away from Volt-a-More!”  Using no-cost methods, Sioux Trail’s strategies included; calibrating ovens and shortened pre-heating times, serving “cold” lunches, all school “black outs,” and unplugging everything not in use.  Students also formed a “PRIDE Patrol” to identify and monitor wasted energy, while “Shadow’s Light Brigade” comprised of younger students, were responsible for opening blinds in the morning and closing them at the end of each school day.  Alex Tofte, 5th grade teacher recalls, “It was impressive to see how the little things add up to create a big impact.  When the entire community supports an effort, the results are easy to achieve.”  This was apparent in the production of the “energy alerts,” which alone included 33 staff, more than 185 students with individual speaking parts, and 16 whole classrooms, for a total of 433 students involved. Engberg contributes “Students were happy to volunteer their time during recess and after school, to “star” in the videos.”  Mark Glende, Head Custodian confirms, “It really was a whole school effort, and everyone felt that they had a role.  The message was that we are all important, and can make a difference…What is even more valuable than being first in the competition is that behaviors were changed, not only at school but at home as well.”  McParland adds, “New habits take time to form.  By changing our behaviors, through small adjustments; we also changed our culture.”

We Got The Power!Not only did Sioux Trail win the Battle of the Buildings, and banish Volt-A-More from their school, they also helped to boost the overall energy savings in the district.  Over the five-week competition, ISD 191 was able to save approximately 9% in energy usage (134,370 kWh, and 805 therms, measured in meter reductions) resulting in nearly 100 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide diverted.  The biggest impact in the competition however, was student empowerment, and that cannot easily be captured.  McParland concludes, “the competition was just plain fun, but also complimented every-day learning.  Sometimes we forget to have fun.  By making learning fun, students actually want to come to school.  Critical thinking and problem solving skills become natural and relevant to real life.  In turn, you help to nurture life-long learners who are on their way to becoming real-world leaders.” ~ Jothsna Harris

See more great videos made by Sioux Trail Elementary to raise awareness about energy consumption:

ST Week 1 Energy Alert

ST Week 2 Energy Alert

ST Week 3 Energy Alert

ST Week 4 Energy Alert

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