Middle School Energy Experiment Wins Green Building Council Award

Project one of several energy-related initiatives in the Bryan Innovation Lab and Middle School

A team of Middle School students, led by teacher Maria McCarthy and Bryan Lab Director Cary Jamieson, recently won an award for a data collection project about how energy and resources are used in the Middle School building and Dining Commons.

The award was granted by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Virginia Connect the Dots Program, which is designed "to develop and implement the most creative, effective, no or low cost sustainable practices for...schools" in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. The award grants $300 to continue our sustainability work and a free login to USGBC’s Learning Lab Program.

Mrs. McCarthy and Ms. Jamieson worked with eighth graders David Cantor, Grace Compton, Peyton Wisor, Harper Jones, Chandler Grant, Zoe Macgill, and Caroline Brumagin on this project. The students met during study halls; this was not a class project, rather it was one in which they all chose to participate.

“I’m proud of our students because they care deeply about our environment,” Mrs. McCarthy said. “They were inspired and they were willing to give up their time in order to make a difference.”

In this multi-week project, the students studied how people in the Middle School (both teachers and students) used the space, based on energy, water, waste, and air quality. They did their research both during the school day and after school. For example, they tracked behaviors like lights left on, chargers plugged in when not charging, and how food waste was disposed of in the dining hall. The students were cautious not to disrupt their friends’ and teachers’ privacy during their research.

The group noted current awareness for conservation and recycling, and then implemented eye-catching and easy-to-read signage to help build understanding of behavior changes that support conservation and recycling. The group has already noticed some positive new behaviors in the Middle School as a result.

“After making these small changes in the Middle School, we have noticed that students and teachers turn off their classroom lights when they leave after the school day is over, or think twice before they take a second sheet of paper towel,” Mrs. McCarthy wrote in the award entry. “One of our primary goals was to better communicate with Middle School students and faculty the importance of being alert, aware, and diligent with our habits and practices. It was important to reinforce what we do well, and to make everyone aware of what we can do better to educate our community and help to collectively develop better sustainability habits and practices.”

Ms. Jamieson noted: “I am so impressed with our faculty’s passion for going above and beyond to empower our students to become engaged with real-world problems. Mrs. McCarthy’s knowledge of architecture and passion for sustainability have given our students insight into a problem that is becoming a driver in all industries, all over the world. Our Middle School students now understand resources, waste, and the need for innovative solutions through a new lens because of this project.”

Mrs. McCarthy and the Bryan Innovation Lab staff will continue their work with students on energy-awareness education into the coming year. In a separate but related project, Shane Diller, Bryan Innovation Lab Lead Technologist, and a group of faculty, staff, and Middle School BIL ambassadors have recently completed a two-day audit of plastic waste on campus. Mr. Diller and the students, Charlotte Olexy and Zeke Hudson, collected plastic trash in four categories: prepackaged foods; Ziploc bags, straws, and utensils; drink bottles; miscellaneous. They then counted and weighed everything.

“We’re actually doing a decent job,” Mr. Diller said, “but there are always ways we can do better. We are planning to provide more information and alternatives. We want to empower our students and faculty to make positive change in their own communities.”





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