There’s a new, hands-on garden at Lafayette Christian School in LaGrange, but beans and tomatoes aren’t being cultivated. At the school’s new Engineers’ Garden, teachers are growing tomorrow’s engineers, according to Headmaster John Cipolla.

“For years, the United States has been importing engineers from other countries when we need to be raising more of our own,” says Cipolla. “We’re trying to grow local. We built this garden to grow engineers, to give students a fertile place to grow and get excited about science and math.”

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Pictured here, Cipolla tests a radiometer at the Engineers’ Garden, which features solar panels for solar energy education.

To foster that growth, the school opened its Engineers’ Garden to students this fall, thanks in part to funding from the Diverse Power Foundation and Green Power EMC, the state’s first renewable energy program, which provides electricity through 38 member-EMCs, including Diverse Power.

A major component of the garden is its solar power array and related instructional pieces. Four solar panels generate one kilowatt of electricity, which is stored in four batteries onsite and used to power security lighting at the garden along with lights and a fan at the experiment station.

Diverse Power helped develop the solar energy component through Green Power’s SunPower for Schools program, and Green Power EMC trained teachers on the accompanying curriculum.

“The solar panels we installed demonstrate to students in real time how the sun’s energy can be harnessed to produce electricity,” says Diverse Power Residential Services/Marketing Coordinator Ken Pope. “This solar component ties directly in with many of the strategic objectives of Diverse Power to broaden our energy portfolio to include more energy friendly electricity.”

Lafayette Christian is among 36 Georgia schools that participate in the SunPower for Schools program. Lafayette Christian teachers Britney Bishop, Kimberly Douglass and Cipolla attended the SunPower for Schools curriculum seminar in Savannah last year to prepare for the debut of the Engineers’ Garden.

“We like to think of the SunPower for Schools program as a laboratory where students can apply what they learn from textbooks and through teacher instruction,” says Green Power CEO Jeff Pratt. “It’s a collaborative effort that results in an enhanced learning experience.”

While most SunPower for Schools programs utilize electricity generated from solar panels in their school’s regular electric system, the setup at Lafayette Christian School is unique, according to Cipolla.

“We wanted students to see how they would have to construct a building in order to generate the most solar power, what direction to face the panels, how to wire it for electricity, and so on, in order to really teach them how electricity works,” says the headmaster, adding that the students learn how to collect and analyze data, conduct experiments and develop hypotheses.

“The big thing here is getting kids to think,” Cipolla concludes. “We can’t teach our kids the skills they’ll need 15 years from now because we don’t know what those might be. But we can teach them how to think, and we can work to develop their curiosity for science and math.”

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The Engineers’ Garden was funded in part by the Diverse Power Foundation and Green Power EMC.

Photo Credits: Jackie Kennedy 

What Is SunPower for Schools?

SunPower for Schools is an in-class solar learning laboratory for Georgia middle and high school students. Developed by Green Power EMC and Georgia’s electric cooperatives, this free program provides the curriculum and data necessary to study and analyze energy produced by the sun. It features a professionally developed curriculum that supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) standards. Off-the-shelf lesson plans cover physical science, physics and chemistry; math; life science, biology and environmental science; and earth science. For more information, visit greenpoweremc.com.

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