By David Kligman
KNIGHTS LANDING — On a playground blacktop, about 15 students at this Yolo County elementary school crowded around a table as two PG&E electric workers discussed the dangers of high voltage lines.
“What happens if you see a power line on the ground?” Woodland-based line worker Tim Panton asked the children. “Should you touch it?” “No!” the children yelled.
Panton then showed the consequences using a safety demonstration called a 12KV board complete with miniature people, power lines and trees. Using an orange rod, he positioned one of the figurines to touch the downed line, shocking the plastic man.
And children being children, one boy yelled, “It smells like burnt chocolate chip cookies.”
Panton reminded the youngsters: “If you see that you want to call 911 and they’ll have PG&E turn off the power. Don’t try to solve it yourself.”
The demonstration on energy last week (Sept. 28) was part of the school’s popular Big Science Friday at the Science and Technology Academy, a charter school that emphasizes science and math for children from kindergarten through sixth grade.
Each month, the school chooses a different science topic. One month the theme was aeronautics. On another it was states of matter. During the event, the entire school breaks into groups of 15 and rotates among stations.
The idea for PG&E’s involvement came from substation engineer Manuel Mandujano whose two children attend the school. He worked with Butterfield on a special half-day with demonstrations teaching the children about energy, including safety, where it comes from and the importance of conserving energy.
Mandujano said PG&E’s participation is important because it further builds a relationship between the utility and the areas it serves.
Knights Landing, a community in Yolo County located on the Sacramento River about 10 miles north of Woodland, was once a steamboat landing. Today many of the 1,000 people who live there work in agriculture.
“You might go to a big city and raise some awareness,” Mandujano said. “You go to a town like this, the whole town now knows who you are. It’s small, but you’ve gained the whole town’s trust.”
The school was thankful for PG&E’s partnership.
“It’s great to have partners and have more of a professional presentation than we can possibly do,” said Barbara Herms, the school’s principal. “And it’s always nice to have someone from the outside coming in to teach them.”
In addition to the station on electrical safety, children also got to design solar necklaces and build a solar-powered toy car. They measured the electricity of a hair dryer and learned that using a lower setting can ultimately save a lot of energy. They spun a wheel and answered questions about energy. And they crowded around Helmet, PG&E’s safety mascot.
“It’s important for PG&E because it gives us an opportunity to discuss safety with children and participate in the community,” said Barbara Butterfield, a PG&E customer relationship manager. “These kids are our future, right? These kids are learning so much about safety and power and energy efficiency and renewable energy. And they don’t realize that they’re learning it because we’re presenting it in a very fun, hands-on way.”
The children were thrilled. Zucy Virgen, an 8-year-old third grader, said she can’t wait for Big Science Friday each month.
“I loved it! Oh my gosh, this is my favorite day,” she said.
While the day was a fun one for children, Brian Pon of Yolo County Energy Watch said it’s important for younger children to learn about energy and conservation.
“I learned these concepts of energy efficiency at age 35,” he said. “If they’re starting to get introduced to it at age 8, think of how much more potential there is for making change.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.