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Bronx School Wins $12,000 for Using 20 Percent Less Energy

UNIONPORT — With just the flip of several switches, students at P.S./M.S. 194 in The Bronx helped their school win $12,000 in prize money by cutting its energy use by 21 percent.

The building saved the most electricity out of 22 public schools that competed in a six-month, citywide contest that asked students to apply lessons from an energy-conservation curriculum to their own schools, where they unplugged electronics and switched off lights to save power and reduce pollution.

“They would remind the teachers,” said P.S./M.S. 194’s principal, Rosa Sifuentes-Rosado, “‘Don’t forget to turn off the lights!’”

The runners-up, P.S. 84 in Queens and the Academy of Environmental Leadership in Brooklyn, each won $9,000 in funds from the city’s Education Department and the nonprofit Solar One, which created the energy-focused curriculum and contest.

The participating schools reduced their electricity usage by an average of 8.1 percent, saving the school system $75,000 on its energy bills, Solar One's executive director, Christopher Collins, told students at P.S./M.S. 194 Wednesday.

“You really are the pride of the city,” said Collins. “The impact of what you accomplished can’t be underestimated.”

In the fall, sixth-graders at P.S./M.S. 194 learned how the computers, TVs and light bulbs they rely on are powered by energy from fossil fuels — and also how the energy-extraction process affects the planet.

“People don’t normally associate turning on a little light switch with the burning of coal somewhere,” said Asunta Del Bello, a Solar One educator who taught their Green Design Lab curriculum at the school twice a week.

Then the students experimented with alternative energy sources, building solar-powered model cars and wind turbines.

Finally, they brainstormed ways to use less electricity in their school.

Student monitors reminded teachers to turn off the lights and unplug the Smart Boards, interactive white boards used in classrooms. School administrators began sending emails to faculty, rather than paper memos, and phoning automated messages to parents, rather than printing letters.

Before long, the school had slashed its energy use by a fifth, and began to notice serious savings on its bills.

“Small steps,” said sixth-grader Sudipta Chakroborty, “lead to bigger things.”

After participating in the program, more than 90 percent of students said that making smart choices can help solve energy problems, compared with 67 percent of students in a statewide survey who felt the same way, according to Solar One.

At the award ceremony Wednesday, the principal of P.S. 84 in Queens, John Buffa, tried using a bi-borough metaphor to explain energy conservation to the students.

“Just like with the Yankees and the Mets,” he said, “it’s all about collaboration and teamwork.”