Passion & Priorities: Making the Connections

by Shane Crone, NBCT Physics Teacher, Curie Conservation Corps leader, IB Diploma Programme Teacher  

It was about five years ago that one of my colleagues at Curie High School, Ms. Cottrell, announced at a school wide meeting that she had created a team for a new bike-a-thon event held by a group called Climate Cycle and she needed teammates to help gain solar panels for our school. Five minutes after that meeting was over, I was on the team.

I can remember that first ride and the cold wind that stung my face on the long ride back to Soldier Field. Since that time I have participated in every ride with dozens of staff members and hundreds of students. The relationship between Curie H.S. and Climate Cycle has continued to grow and now Curie High School stands as the largest solar school in Chicago!

Largest solar panel installation at any Chicago K-12 school.  ©Tricia Koning

Largest solar panel installation at any Chicago K-12 school. ©Tricia Koning

At the time I joined the first Curie Climate Cycle team, I couldn’t have explained why I was so compelled to join this movement. Prior to that time, no one who knew me would have thought of me as an environmental activist, but as I heard Ms. Cottrell describe what Climate Cycle was about, I could feel my passion for this issue grow.

I realize now that the opportunity to work with students in my school on ways to address climate change was secondary to the real reason I joined. My first child was only one year old at the time and becoming a parent led to many changes in my priorities. One of those priorities was a stronger sense of leaving a world to my children that is better than the one that I inherited. That sense led me to Climate Cycle, and Climate Cycle has helped me to fulfill that obligation in ways that I could never have accomplished on my own.

As of today Curie High School has raised more than $43,000 for Climate Cycle and been the top fundraiser multiple times. We have written three grant proposals that resulted in three solar installations that now provide 11 kW of power. We have won additional prize money three times and these funds have allowed us to create projects for our students that never would have been possible otherwise. We used those funds to take students to state parks and forest preserves to help them see the natural world that we need to protect. We created the first pedal powered classroom where students could produce usable electrical energy while they worked on classroom assignments. Most recently we created the solar powered backpack project where students received a Voltaic Systems solar panel and battery that they attached to backpacks, bags, and even directly to bikes. These projects funded by Climate Cycle have provided our students with hands-on experiences that deepened their understanding of the possibilities of relying on sustainable energy and the importance of preserving the natural world.

I have been privileged to work with students and staff members who have made it the mission of our school to create a sustainable world. One of my former colleagues, Josh Parker (Brad Parker’s brother) helped foster and lead our Climate Cycle team in its second year. He created our largest team and worked with students through his club and the Chicago Conservation Corps to learn more about the dilemmas that we are faced with in using our precious resources. Jasmine Vasquez is another founding member of the team who has helped students participate as riders and volunteers in our Climate Cycle team and fostered increased bike use in our school. Most recently, Erin Faulkner and I have taken the reins to continue the environmental sustainability movement at Curie. Erin worked with Josh to take students to the state parks and forest preserves to learn more about the natural world but Erin has her own projects too. She sponsors the Compost Club, which will collect more than 10,000 pounds of food waste at Curie this year. She also takes students every month (even in the winter) to remove invasive species from the forest preserves — on one recent occasion, students from the most recent Climate Cycle Cup winner, Locke Elementary joined us in this work.

As for me, I have sponsored two major projects. In the Turn Off the Lights Campaign, students encouraged other students and staff members to turn off lights during the day and open the blinds to take advantage of the natural sunlight. We worked on fixing broken blinds and recorded data in several ways to see the impact we were having. In my classroom alone we reduced our total energy use by more than 1,700 kWh and eliminated more than 1,500 pounds of CO2 that would have gone into our atmosphere. We continue to create posters and videos to encourage people to use the sunlight as a means of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Our second major project was continuing and expanding the work of the paper recycling club. Previously, paper was only recycled in the department offices but we began working with students in the Special Education department and my club to expand paper collection to the classrooms. As a result, we were able to collect more than 14,000 pounds of paper last year and this year we are on pace to collect over 20,000 pounds.

It has been incredibly rewarding to see how enthusiastically students at my school have worked to impact the world in a positive way. On a personal level, I am proud to have participated in the growth of Climate Cycle’s Clean Energy Movement. I have had many meetings with Joey (Climate Cycle’s founder) but I especially remember when I presented my ideas for the Pedal Powered Classroom and the Solar Backpack Project.  Joey’s enthusiasm for those projects just reinforced my own excitement to bring new opportunities to the students that I work with. My work with Climate Cycle has given me a great sense of pride and accomplishment. This was especially reinforced when the Pedal Powered classroom was not only chosen to be turned into a grant opportunity, but was actually picked by two schools that made great additions to the idea. Both went on to present this project at the Climate Cycle Soirée.

Last year’s ride was a little bittersweet as we took second place to Locke Elementary despite a great effort by our students. It was special for me though because I was able to see one of my pet projects, the solar backpack project, turned into the top prize for 2013. It was really remarkable to see the excitement of the Locke students and to watch them develop the project in their own ways. Climate Cycle has given me great pleasure because I know that I am beginning to realize that goal of leaving the world better than it was when I arrived. But more importantly, I want my students and every student of CPS to have the opportunity to feel that meaningful sense of accomplishment. I like to think about my students passing the school, years from now, and seeing those solar panels and realizing that they put those panels there. I know they will feel a profound sense of pride about the lasting legacy that they left to their school and community, even long after they have graduated.

Guest blogger Shane Crone has proved to be both an innovator and a catalyst. His incredible output and energy inspires us every day. Please consider making  a donation today to support our work with incredible partners like Shane Crone.

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