‘Green Teams’ Put the Kids in Charge in Wisconsin

The School District of Fort Atkinson lets students lead sustainability initiatives

Ever since geothermal heating systems were installed in four of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin’s six schools in 2006, sustainable building practices have been embraced by the School District of Fort Atkinson. The district has been so dedicated that its Purdy Elementary School won a Green Ribbon Award, which was given to only 78 schools out of more than 350 applicants across the nation for exemplary success in sustainable practices. And Dennis Kuchenmeister, director of buildings and grounds, says that although all six schools in the district have made great strides toward energy efficiency, the Purdy Green Team has seen the most success thus far.

Although all schools in the Fort Atkinson district now have Green Teams, Purdy pioneered the idea and formed the first one in the 2008-2009 school year. It now has 10 members, all in third through fifth grade, and it runs much like a student council but with a primary focus on promoting and working on sustainability-related projects.

The Purdy Green Team has become a vital part of the day-to-day procedures at the school. The students were intricately involved in the school’s Energy Star certification process by doing inventory for computers, windows, doors, projectors, and space heaters, among other things, and surveying transportation habits, lighting usage in rooms, and recycling habits. Their efforts helped the school win its certification in summer 2010.

Solar panels and wind turbines at many of the School District of Fort Atkinson schools have also helped lower costs.
Solar panels and wind turbines at many of the School District of Fort Atkinson schools have also helped lower costs.

The team also administers weekly checks of classroom conservation participation, including writing out “tickets” to rooms that fail to turn off lights or not following proper recycling practices. Each month the team awards the most energy-efficient classroom a frog figurine called Eartha.

These ambitious youngsters even run the school store where they manage the accounting, marketing, and merchandise orders and manage inventory. Profits are used to promote the team’s interest in sustainable habits, energy-efficient items, and educational products.

The Purdy Green Team has been so successful that is has not only reduced electricity use, completed tree transplants, and increased overall recycling, but it has also cut the plastic spork usage at the school by 95 percent, saving a large amount of plastic yearly.

In addition to the geothermal heating systems, Purdy has a photovoltaic array on the roof, which was installed in 2010. Other schools in the district have solar hot-water systems for heated swimming pools, and one even has a wind generator. The district has not done an overall revamp of roofing, lighting, or water fixtures, but when replacements are needed, sustainable options are used.

“The goal is to have all the schools have some sort of sustainable system in place,” Kuchenmeister says. “Every school has been converted from 32-watt T12 lights to 30-watt T8 lamps. We also put in energy-efficient ballasts. Now what we’re doing is through attrition, or as they burn out, we are replacing them with 28-watt lamps.”

The geothermal wells have been a big saver for Purdy and the other three schools that have them. Purdy saw a 59.7 percent energy savings, and the district as a whole had a 53.5 percent savings, which is approximately $71,000, in 2010.

“The biggest benefit is that it’s a source of education to the kids in the school,” Kuchenmeister says. “There is a heat pump for every room. We can heat a room on one side of the building, and at the same time, we can run the air-conditioning on the other side. If a room is not being used for any period of time, we can schedule it off so we aren’t running pumps in that room.”