‘Rolling up their sleeves’: Tacoma students work to bring solar panels to Jason Lee Middle School

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TACOMA, Wash. -- Three Tacoma students are working to create change with a project to get solar panels installed at Jason Lee Middle School. The students want to do their part to save the planet.

Annie Son is a ninth-grader at Stadium High School.

“We’re the future, so we need to step up and make change right now," Son said.

To do that, she and her classmates had to convince people in high places.

“While we know that solar panels might not be suitable for every school in Washington, schools that are fit for solar panels can compensate,” Sammy Firkins said during a presentation at the governor’s STEM Education Innovation Alliance meeting at the Washington state capitol.

Annie and Sammy, a ninth-grader at Tacoma School of the Arts, teamed up with Gwen Newport, a ninth-grader at Stadium High School and teacher Kathleen Hall to get their school district prioritizing green energy by installing solar panels.

To make it happen, they took the idea all the way to the top last year, presenting to Gov. Jay Inslee, a champion of the environment.

"We should learn from schools that have already made this into a reality," Newport said.

“That student voice piece, I wish the world would understand," Jason Lee Middle School Principal Christine Brandt said. "We need to listen, and sometimes we forget that the young have these fabulous, outside-the-box, innovative, different ways of thinking that maybe we don't think about somehow. And these girls just brought that to us.”

The project will install solar panels on the roof of the school's athletics building.

The students are quick to point out that schools are perfect for solar panels. They are large buildings with plenty of rooftop space.

"Jason Lee is an example of an ideal location to place solar panels. Our roofs are completely unobstructed and would be perfect for 300 solar panels, which could produce 90,000 kilowatts," they said during the presentation.

The project is powering learning potential for students to get educated about renewable energy being produced - on campus.

The school board caught wind of the opportunity - and lit up!

“These girls came to us with not only identifying the problem, but with the solution to try to address the problem, which I think is, that's the ultimate outcome we're trying to have, students that think thoughtfully about the problem and also come to use with a reasonable solution," Tacoma School Board President Scott Heinze said. "And then they want to be a part of rolling up their sleeves and seeing this project fully implemented.”

For their teacher, it's the ultimate reward: students turning their education into action.

“My goal of teaching science was to help my students become better stewards. Our mission with this project is to help empower youth to make positive change in their community and the world," Hall said.

The project will cost about $200,000. They say it will save the school up to $14,000 a year. Tacoma Public Utilities awarded Jason Lee a $50,000 grant.

They are applying for more grants and fundraising for the rest.

You can learn more here.

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