Posted on March 6, 2014

Bakersfield: Students Learn Benefits of Solar With Bright Ideas Grant

By Tracy Correa

BAKERSFIELD – Kierra William Bailey, 13, meticulously put the final touches on a solar car as she and her classmates prepared to test them out on a day when the sun was barely shining.

Soon after, the entire seventh-grade class took the small cars out for a spin on the grounds of Emerson Middle School. They hoped there was enough sun to make the cars go – and there was – even though a few of the cars may have needed a gentle nudge.

Leonardo Mendoza, 12, watches a solar car that he helped build take off at Emerson Middle School. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

Today (March 6), the students showed off what they had been learning with help from a $5,000 Bright Ideas grant awarded to teacher Lewis Neal last year. The grant program is designed to support understanding of the energy industry in public schools.

Most of the children at the central Bakersfield school – where 97 percent of students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch – are considered at-risk youth and PG&E’s grant has provided additional learning opportunities.

The grant was used to teach students about solar power as an alternative energy source. And now the students were providing live demonstrations of what they had learned to representatives from PG&E, the school district and local media.

Kierra had just watched her car – powered by the sun — roll across the blacktop. She said she enjoyed the solar car project. “You get to learn a lot about solar,” she said. “When you’re in school, you mostly know about electricity.”

The school put the $5,000 to good use, stretching it over two years. Over the summer, Neal used a summer school sports program to “sneak in” a learning segment on cooking with solar. The students enrolled in the summer program learned to make hot dogs in a solar oven. “When you saw the kids, working as a team,” it was rewarding, said Neal. Of course, he said, the hot dogs they got to eat were a bonus.

Emerson Middle School in Bakersfield was able to purchase solar car kits using a $5,000 PG&E Bright Ideas grant it received last year.

Neal said the hope is to get students interested alternative energy sources so that they consider this growing field when making career choices.

Margaret Gallegos, director of school support at Bakersfield City School District, commended PG&E for providing the funding to Emerson, one of 13 schools she supervises.

“PG&E has been really generous not just at Emerson, but a number of our schools have written and received grants… It really takes a whole village,” she said.

The grant funding, in addition to the solar ovens used over the summer, went toward purchasing the solar car kits for students in Anthony Richardson’s seventh grade science classroom where Kierra is a student.

Richardson said the hands-on activities boost student learning because it keeps them engaged. “It makes a huge difference when it’s a hands-on activity… They truly enjoy coming to class,” he said. His students have spent months learning about alternative energy including radiant energy, thermal energy and photovoltaic cells.

The students in Richardson’s class spent three days working on the solar cars before the test runs today.

Kierra William Bailey, 13, puts final touches on her group’s solar car. A PG&E grant was used to purchased the car kits.

Serafino Torres and Leonardo Mendoza, both 12, said they had fun with the project. “We got to build things and figure out what we did right and what we did wrong,” Leonardo said.

In the end, their solar car needed a gentle push by Leonardo to get rolling. But, when it did, it moved across a vacant cement stage area with the boys on opposite sides cheering it on.

PG&E’s Bright Ideas grant program has awarded more than $2.3 million to 370 schools throughout PG&E’s Northern and Central California service area. Grants range from $1,000 to $10,000.

Email Tracy Correa at tracy.correa@pge.com.

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