- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“Vikings are conserving energy. Please close the door behind you.”

The Loudoun Valley Vikings take their energy message seriously. On Thursday, the school will host a celebration marking a yearlong student effort to light the school sign with solar energy. And it’s only phase one of their planned four-phase project.

“The spark has already been set, and other schools are recognizing what’s going on at Loudoun Valley,” said Mike Barancewicz, energy education specialist for Loudoun County schools. He assisted and encouraged students throughout the project, which participants hope will spur other local schools to use solar energy as well.

Students teamed up with German teacher Dennis Roos, whose visit to Freiburg, Germany, inspired him to pursue solar energy locally. He described the German town as a “solar city,” a large part of it powered by energy from the sun.

“When I came back to the States after that trip, I came back to the public school system and said, ‘Hey, we should have solar power in our schools,’ ” Mr. Roos said.

Mr. Roos, together with students from the German club and the Conservation club, put together their four-phase project to bring solar power to their high school. Lights for a sign and the parking lot and energy for the water heater and school trailers would all be powered by solar energy under the plan.

A parent organization and the senior class together contributed $5,000 for phase one - lighting the school sign. Project participants installed the solar panel, battery and lights last Wednesday night.

“It was incredible fun. … We all had a screwdriver and instructions and were passing them around,” Mr. Roos said.

But stages two through four will cost a lot more money. So students are petitioning Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine for $150,000 in federal economic-stimulus money. They coordinated an effort to send more than 300 letters to the governor and made their own trips to legislative offices to inform officials about their plan.

Their argument was multifaceted: Not only would the solar panels save the district money that could be used instead in the classroom, but the stimulus money would help fuel a local startup company - the students’ partner, Solar Shade and Power of Lovettsville, Va.

Making the project reality - from obtaining a permit from local government to showing slide shows to fellow students to building a cardboard model of the solar panel - has taken the students since September. Mr. Roos said students have told him, “This [project] is the most fun thing I’ve ever done at school.”

Clayton Cope, 18, plans to attend the University of Virginia in the fall and aspires to be an environmental lawyer. He said the project cemented his interest in the environment and energy conservation.

And the students continue to dream big. “Eventually, one day, the entire school is our goal,” Ginny Blair, 17, said.

“It’s not just the lights,” Mr. Roos said. “It’s what these guys have gone through to accomplish this.”

He said many times he wanted to give up and say the project was too hard.

He gestured toward his students. “These guys wouldn’t let me say that.”

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