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Redmond Students Cool Down Their School

Big changes are made as a group of high school students teach their teachers a thing or two about climate change

spacerRedmond senior Emily Guo shares why her experience with the Cool School Campaign has given her hope for the future.



Redmond High students take on climate change - Photo by Justine Simon
Redmond High students take on climate change.
Photo by Justine Simon

What does it take to fight climate change? If you ask the folks at Redmond High School outside of Seattle, the answer will likely involve a group of interested and committed students, a much loved environmental-science teacher, and a few thousand pounds of carbon.

What started as a simple question in Mike Town's AP science class, has, two years later, become a campus-wide campaign. Following a discussion about what people could do to reduce their personal impact on the environment, Mr. Town's students realized that as members of the school system, they were in ideal positions to effect big change. The Cool School initiative was born as a group of students and their teacher set out to reduce their high school's carbon footprint.

Grounding their actions in the belief that awareness through education is the key to meeting the demands of climate change, the students decided that the classroom would be the focal point of their campaign. If they could challenge their teachers to become conservation role models, this would in turn encourage other students to engage in climate-friendly behavior. Those students could then take the message of conservation home, and become environmental ambassadors in their own right.


Listen in as Redmond's students talk about the Cool School Campaign


Joseph Hegge. Photo by Justine Simon
Laura Wang. Photo by Justine Simon
Emily Guo. Photo by Justine Simon
Jamie Hall. Photo by Justine Simon
Zachary Doleac
spacerJoseph Hegge
22 seconds

spacerLaura Wang
30 seconds

spacerEmily Guo
47 seconds

spacerJamie Hall
31 seconds

spacerZach Doleac
38 seconds

The project started with a month-long trial period, where the students encouraged their teachers to make small changes in their classrooms such as lowering the room temperatures by a few degrees, and avoiding the use of all four sets of lights at once. They also advocated a bi-weekly carpool schedule where their teachers could continue to reduce their carbon emissions, all for the sake of their classroom footprint. As with any school project, the element of competition on a classroom-by-classroom basis only helped fuel positive results.

After a month's time with all forty-nine of the school's teachers on board, Mr. Town's students assessed the results of their campaign's early stages. The numbers showed their teachers rising to the challenge. Forty-six of them surpassed the goal of saving what would amount to 1,000 pounds of carbon over a years' time, with many teachers saving as much as an annual 5,000 pounds. Conservation efforts such as these would reduce their school's impact by 45 tons of carbon over the course of a year.

Redmond High's efforts paid off both in terms of reducing their carbon output, as well as cutting electricity bills. After tallying up the math, the students saw that their month-long initiative coupled with the use of geothermal and solar energy sources, shaved a staggering $7,500 off their school's electricity bill. These savings added to the campaign's momentum, and Mr. Town's students prepared for the second stage of their project.

Upping their ante, the students have raised the conservation goal to 2,000 pounds per classroom for this upcoming school-year. They are also beginning to promote further ways to reduce their school's environmental impact. Teachers are now able to print using recycled paper, are reminded to turn off their power outlets at the source, and are strongly encouraged to use reusable mugs for their many cups of coffee.

As the project evolves, the buzz around it grows. The district's administrative staff is now clambering to join the initiative and local business interest is growing. Politicians across the country are beginning to take notice, and the students have recently presented their results to a US Conference of Mayors meeting in Los Angeles. Mr. Town's students now hope to invite interested schools throughout the country to join their Cool School campaign.

For Redmond's students and staff, the effects of that initial conversation in Mr. Town's science class have been long-lasting. As members of their community become increasingly aware of the importance of individual consumption habits, conservation is becoming a way of life at Redmond High. The program has not only succeeded in reducing the school's carbon footprint, and in cutting its electricity bill, but it has also managed to do what few other programs can do. The Cool School campaign has empowered a group of committed high school students to educate their educators, and lead the way in what will surely be one of their generation's biggest challenges.

Justine Simon is Yes! Magazine's pioneer online editorial intern. After finishing up with her internship she plans to return to her motherland Canada, regroup, and figure out what life has in store for her next. She steps forward with eager anticipation. Email Signup
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