Some Montclair High School students are encouraging the district to take a look at solar energy.

Noa Putman, Victoria DeLaRosa and Gabbi Carson are all sophomores in MHS’s Center for Social Justice, a small learning community within the high school. The three came before the Board of Education at its June 19 meeting to give a short talk on their recent research.

They were accompanied by Jeff Freeman, the center’s lead teacher.

The students’ presentation outlined a number of ways in which the Montclair school district could invest in solar panels and solar energy systems.

Charles H. Bullock School, is the newest of the district’s schools, and solar panels and other environmentally friendly energy systems were built in when it was constructed in 2011. But the district’s other schools are significantly older, dating to the early 20th century.

“We think that as a community, it’s very important and essential that we start pushing for change and really working to go green,” Putman said.
The students said that solar panel installation has gone up significantly over the past few years, and that the nonprofit Solar Power Rocks has assembled a report card ranking the 50 states on their efforts toward solar energy. New Jersey is ranked second.

One possibility that Montclair could look into is a power purchase agreement, in which a developer would be responsible for the installation and maintenance of the solar panels, and the related costs. The revenue from the solar panels would go to the developer, while the schools would receive a reduced energy bill.

As part of the project, the students’ research process also included a meeting with Gray Russell, the township’s sustainability officer.

The benefits of solar panels could be financial as well as environmental, the students noted. Showing a slide of the school district’s planned budget reductions and staff cuts, Putman, DeLaRosa and Carson said that the schools may be able to use savings from solar energy to increase program offerings and to hire new staff.

Putman, DeLaRosa and Carson’s talk was one of several student talks given at the Center for Social Justice this week. The talks are known as PDLs: Public Demonstrations of Learning. Working in groups, the students do research on a given topic related to the center’s curriculum and give a presentation at the end of the marking period.

Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak noted that two members of the board had attended the PDLs earlier in the day and were very impressed by what they had seen. “They were captivated by it, they found that the students, not surprisingly, but the students well represented their point of view, had researched their project,” she said, so the board felt it was important to allow some of the students to appear before the board that evening.

“The students were so excited to have you,” Freeman said to the board. “When you would leave the classroom to visit the next classroom, they would say, ‘Wait, are they coming back? When are they coming back?’”

And the board’s visit, Freeman said, was a tribute to the hours of hard work that the students had put into their research.