SCHOOLS | July 8, 2021
Rising seventh-grader Kevion had an important realization during a family trip to Las Vegas: as he walked around, he noticed that trash cans and recycling bins were everywhere and there was barely any litter on the ground. When he compared this to the streets of Chicago, he came to the conclusion that the city could be doing more to become cleaner and more environmentally friendly.
He and his classmates at Pershing Elementary Humanities Magnet School are ready to do their part to promote recycling and sustainability—first within the context of their school and then within their larger community.
Pershing principal Dr. Safurat Giwa explains that her school is uniquely equipped to position students as leaders on issues such as the environment. The school recently received a Lighthouse Certification for its efforts to amplify student voice and effectively prepare students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. On top of that, Dr. Giwa ensures that all students are learning about energy and sustainability in their science classes.
“We are really trying to have our students learn more about solar energy and green technology in general to ensure that they are prepared for the jobs of the future,” she said. “It’s important that they understand that solar energy is the future so we integrate these topics throughout the curriculum and present the information as a progression from relying on coal to moving toward energy that is less impactful to the environment.”
Another piece of the puzzle is the district’s CPS Goes Solar! initiative. Pershing is one of 17 schools that is partnering with the district’s Department of Facilities, specifically its Energy and Sustainability Program, to install solar panels on their building while also educating students about their benefits. The school currently has 144 panels on its roof, a small but powerful step toward the district’s goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. Additionally, these panels will help defray the energy costs of running the building, savings that Pershing will be able to use to support students more directly.
This past spring, students at Pershing had the opportunity to supplement their learning through a hands-on experience provided through the initiative: building their own solar panels and solar-powered generator.
Annabel, a rising seventh-grader who took part in the project, notes that the solar panels were difficult to put together at first as she got used to the different tools needed, such as a wrench and screwdriver. However, she says that she would now be ready to help someone else put together a solar panel and would even have advice for them on how to best use the generator.
Not only was the project engaging, it helped the students develop more ideas to create more sustainable neighborhoods in Chicago. Donovan, also a rising seventh-grader, believes that solar generators would be especially useful for big events like block parties. His peers Nathaniel and Jerome build on that idea by asserting that the city needs to do more to incentivize people to recycle and make other greener choices.
The students at Pershing are quick to point out that there are often socioeconomic barriers to living sustainably. For example, individuals who don’t have access to a consistent water supply may rely on plastic products. By increasing the number of water fountains or piloting a refillable water bottle station program, Chicago could cut down its usage of plastic water bottles, especially among its homeless population.
At Pershing, even more impactful progress is on the horizon as the school looks to continue building upon the efforts that started this past school year. Principal Giwa is excited to start a green energy club to help students learn about becoming more carbon neutral and maximize the impact of the school’s edible garden for both the school and the surrounding Bronzeville community. She encourages other principals to get involved with CPS Goes Solar! to play their part in shaping the next generation of leaders working toward a more sustainable future.
“This has been a great program especially because it is supporting my students with 21st-century learning,” she said. “What’s even better is that we aren’t doing this alone. We partnered with our fellow neighborhood schools — Doolittle Elementary and Phillips High School — so we can be a triad of green initiatives here in Bronzeville.”
Interested in bringing CPS Goes Solar! programs to your school? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.