December 18, 2014

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Oberlin schools participating in conservation competition

Prospect Elementary School Principal Jim Eibel and fourth-graders view the school’s Environmental Dashboard, used to track water and energy usage in the building.

Prospect Elementary School Principal Jim Eibel and fourth-graders view the school’s Environmental Dashboard, used to track water and energy usage in the building.

OBERLIN — A city that takes pride in lowering its carbon footprint is instilling the importance of cutting back energy usage to its youngest residents.

On Friday, Oberlin Schools kicked off its first “Ecolympics,” a two-week competition to challenge students, faculty and staff to reduce their electricity use. Students in each school building will compete to receive the top prize by reducing their electricity use by the largest percentage relative to a baseline period that was recorded last month.

Prospect Elementary School Principal Jim Eibel said students already are monitoring their energy consumption through the Oberlin Environmental Dashboard Project in which monitoring devices were placed in each school last year. The project, which was created by Oberlin College professor John Peterson, was made possible by a grant from the Ohio Environmental Projection Agency.

“It’s really awareness of (students’) resources and that they have control over it,” Eibel said of the project.

Oberlin College has led the charge, installing monitoring devices in the university, as well as helping the school district interpret data from its dashboards, which are displayed on flat screens that have been installed near the entrance of each of the schools.

Dashboards are also in place at Slow Train Cafe in downtown Oberlin and the Oberlin Public Library.

The signs display how much electricity and water are being used in each building and suggest ways for students and residents to conserve those resources. The dashboard is also accessible at EnvironmentalDashboard.org.

Eibel said the students are excited and have been turning off lights in the cafeteria, as well as some of the hallways. Eibel has participated by turning off the lights in his office, anything to reduce electricity usage during the day, he said.

Shane Clark, a senior at Oberlin College, has been helping Environmental Dashboard Project Leader Danny Rosenberg with the project. She said she’s noticed an interest in energy from the students, who have been picking up on their changes, which cause a spike or drop in usage.

Over the past 18 months, the dashboard team has been working with teachers in the Oberlin Schools to develop lesson plans that use the dashboard to strengthen environmental science curriculum and promote conservation.

Fifth-grade teacher Joy Harrison said her class uses the dashboard to investigate global concerns while Ron Bier, a chemistry and environmental science teacher at Oberlin High School, asks his students to examine their own resource use and consumption habits, according to a news release from the district.

During the Oberlin Schools’ Ecolympics, students at Oberlin College will also hold their own competition among dormitories to reduce electricity and water use. The dashboard project started out in the college’s dormitories, according to Rosenberg and Clark.

The Ecolympics began Friday and will end April 25. Prizes for the winning school include dashboard gel wristbands and a school-wide assembly with musical and acrobatic performances.

Those interested in how the schools are doing can visit EnvironmentalDashboard.org and select “Building Dashboards.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.