By Linda Nguyen
A student helped flip the switch for sustainable energy at a local high school.
Live Oak Classical School located at 500 Clay Ave. in Waco had a dedication for their new solar panels on Tuesday.
The solar panels, which were installed before the school year started, were paid for by a grant Woodway freshman D.J. Achterhof applied for last year.
The grant was for his former high school Live Oak Classical School. Achterhof was the first student to apply for the grant.
The grant was awarded in January by the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club.
“I remembered we were driving back from Colorado for our senior trip and Mrs. Moffat called me and she was almost screaming. She was excited and said, ‘We got it! We got the solar panels grant,’” Achterhof said. “And I was just so excited.”
Achterhof said he applied for the grant during his senior year after his environmental science teacher, Mark Montgomery, led the class in a discussion about giving back to the school.
“One day I was looking through a newspaper, and I saw an ad from Green Mountain Energy talking about a grant that they gave out for solar panels,” Achterhof said.
Achterhof said he thought the grant would be a good opportunity to give back to his school.
“I thought of how neat it would be if I could apply for this grant and receive these solar panels and give back to a school that had given me so much,” Achterhof said.
Achterhof said it was challenging to begin writing the proposal for the solar panels.
“I sat down and looked at it and at first it was like, ‘What could I say that would really impress these people?’ But then I just thought about everything that our school stands for: a good education, morals and values. And I thought I could incorporate that and also being more environmentally friendly. And so when I realized that, it wasn’t hard at all,” Achterhof said. “The words flowed, and it was actually pretty simple.”
Tony Napolillo, Green Mountain Sun Club program manager, said the funds for the solar panel grants come from Green Mountain energy customers.
“They choose to pay $5 more a month on their electricity bill, and we take those funds and donate them directly to nonprofits like the Live Oak School specifically to build solar energy systems and solar energy components,” Napolillo said.
“We were extremely impressed that a student applied for the solar grant,” Napolillo said. “It’s the first time a student applied for any of the 37 solar donations we’ve made. We thought it really showed how unique this school was: how they were raising this next generation of thinkers who are actively involved in their community and trying to make their communities better.”
Alison Moffatt, Head of School for Live Oak Classical School said the transition to solar panels was simple.
“We had a facilities committee that handled everything, and they knew what to do,” Moffatt said. “We had lots of people who deal with energy stuff, and so they kind of knew how to talk to all the right people, and they took it and ran with it. It was seamless. We had to shut down the electricity several times to get it all hooked up in the middle of faculty training. They weren’t too fond of that, but it was worth it in the end.”
Montgomery, Achterhof’s former environmental science teacher at the academy, said they have worked to integrate the solar panels and environmental sustainability into different areas of the curriculum.
“We’re doing a big unit on solar energy in our environmental science classes, collecting data from the solar panels, economically, how much we’re saving, but then also having kind of a holistic approach to our environmental science class,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said the math classes are also using data from the solar panels for graphing, statistics and percentages.
“It is just so cool the way Live Oak empowers their students,” said Katie Ryan, public relations manager for Green Mountain Energy Company.
Napolillo said organizations trying to make a difference in the community are targets for the grant. Napolillo said this is the third donation Green Mountain Sun Club has made in Waco. The other two went to the Waco Chamber of Commerce and Cameron Park Zoo. Napolillo said another dedication will occur in November at the Waco Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Nonprofit organizations interested in applying for a solar panel grant can go to www.greenmountainenergysunclub.com.