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Zilowatt Brings Sustainability Classes to Palo Alto Schools

Local nonprofit will be implementing interactive sustainability labs in schools this year.

Local school kids are about to learn how to save the planet through energy conservation.

Zilowatt, a new environmental education non-profit organization, will this fall begin teaching kids sustainable habits in a classroom environment, conserving energy and money for schools.

The group hopes that after learning these habits in a fun, interactive way, students will bring these practices home and get their parents involved in an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

Zilowatt was founded by a group of parents from the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) who were frustrated with the current lack of educational materials that addressed the conservation needs for schools in the area.

“They were looking for some ways to make their kids more energy efficient, more conscious about the environment and they were working with PAUSD’S Sustainable Schools committee to come up with something to help the kids,” Joyce Kinnear, Palo Alto’s utilities marketing manager, said. “They created this group, Zilowatt, which teaches kids in kindergarten through 12th grade sustainable habits by using interactive kits."

But that was not the only motive behind the project. Bret Andersen, a founder of Zilowatt, explains that the program also aims to save money for schools. “We were trying to lower the energy bill... change your own behavior and the behavior of people at the schools and you’ll save a lot of money,” Andersen said.

The hands-on educational labs, which the founders of Zilowatt began coming up with during the summer of 2010, will be implemented in Palo Alto schools this coming year. They received a grant for $35,000 from the American Public Power Association to help with the funding of the curriculum.

Although available for older grades, the program’s target audience is younger students. “If you teach the kids in the primary grades, they are a little more receptive," Andersen said. "We do offer our materials at middle school and high school levels, but we found that it is easier to build the program around younger kids."

The organization promotes simple, easy habits that are easy for the students to apply to their everyday life. One of the major concepts that the Zilowatt teaches students is a fairly effortless one: turn it off. “You need to teach them the basic habits. There are a lot of possible opportunities to save money at schools and basically it’s turning things off, whether it’s the air conditioner or the lights,” Andersen said.

Palo Alto School District parent, Margo Myers, believes that this program could be a positive addition to Palo Alto schools. “I think that my kids are the ones that have made me recycle and once they start saying we should do composting... I think that they kind of moved the whole family,” Myers said.

Zilowatt is looking to expand beyond the Palo Alto school district. “We are in contact with schools in Menlo Park, EPA [East Palo Alto], and San Jose. We are trying to get schools that are under privileged where these tools will also be very useful. So we’re trying to add some schools that are in lower income areas,” Andersen said.

Wayne Martin August 14, 2011 at 02:59 PM
This is a frightening development. State law mandates that children attend school. For those people who can not afford private schools, the belief that public schools will be safe, and that instruction is provided by qualified teachers who are held in check by various oversight mechanisms, is fundamental to the general acceptance, and success (such that it is) of the public school system. The idea that groups promoting religion, or certain kinds of advocacy, would be allowed access to a community's children is most unsettling. Depending on the level of access, and the demand by the school system for compliance by the children, and their parents, to whatever agenda these outside groups might be pushing, presses the envelop of the “contract” between the public, and the State, where the operation of the public school system is concerned. Suppose this group were to begin pushing “one child per family” ideas in the PAUSD. How many elementary-aged school children would be old enough to understand that this is “social engineering”, and not “education”? What recourse would a parent have to object? We have seen how indifferent the PAUSD school board can be to parents .. vis-à-vis the various “math wars”, and the general disapproval of “Mandarin Immersion”. What happens when the School Board takes the position, like the government of China, that families with more than one child—in the name of “conservation”—should be penalized?
Wayne Martin August 14, 2011 at 03:02 PM
(con't) This idea of “conservation” has no place in the main stream public school system—any more than ideas about “family planning”, or claims of man-made “climate change”, or the promotion of “global citizenship”. It’s hard enough to put together a course of instruction that is both meaningful, and necessary, for getting kids to the point that they can start their own life-time learning experience. Warping their minds with dubious ideas, like “environmentalism” that is based on “who knows what” is not in their interests, or the public’s interest. This is not a good idea. Unfortunately, Palo Alto local government is too often hi-jacked by special interest groups with their own agendas that never turn out to be in the public good.
Jeffrey Kolence August 14, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Learning to save power helps conserve natural resources. Conservation is like good manners, Everyone should learn this at a young age. The goverment is not trying to "Brainwash" kids, parents are.
Wayne Martin August 14, 2011 at 04:01 PM
> "Learning to save power helps conserve natural resources This is an example of the kind of quasi-religious thinking that has infiltrated the so-called “environmental movement”. Let’s suppose that all “power” were generated by “renewables”—and effectively were free. Let’s suppose that everyone generated all the power they could use on their own property. Let’s suppose the everyone used LEDs lighting elements that consumed very little power. How long before this, or some other group, would be claiming that people should conserve, and not operate as many lights in their homes as they like? The whole idea of using technology to free society from the "chains of darkness" is being trashed by the so-called “conservation” movement. It’s only a matter of time before these people start advocating for rationing of electricity, and other sources of energy.
Jeffrey Kolence August 14, 2011 at 04:38 PM
"Let us suppose" and reality are two different things. Rationing of power is already done by way of energy costs. Knowing how to live with less energy use, frees up personal resources which can be used for more important things like food.
Wayne Martin August 14, 2011 at 05:48 PM
> Rationing of power is already done by way of energy costs. Yes, given a supply-and-demand economy. It is a personal choice, however—not one imposed by government (at least during times when the society is not under duress.) The example above, however, involved the use of effectively “free” power—produced by individuals on their own property, not purchased from others in a supply/demand situation. > Knowing how to live with less energy use, > frees up personal resources which can be > used for more important things like food." This opens the door to having the school system, or in this case, “outsiders”, engaging in social engineering for which neither the schools, nor the “outsiders”, have been given a broad mandate by the citizens of the country/state/city to do so. If the schools (like the PAUSD) were to teach broad-based economics, including the theory, and practice, of personal finance, then this sort of argument might carry a little water. However, very few schools actually incorporate much in the way of general economics, or personal finance, in their core curricula. And this argument about “freeing up resources” assumes that people have no freedom to work additional hours to increase their incomes, or change jobs to find higher paying employment. It seems to underscore an almost defeatist mindset about life here in the US, rather than a more positive mindset that people should be all that they can be. Life is not a fixed-sum game!

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