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By Terry Dean
If the blizzard that hit the Chicago area on Feb. 1, arrived a day earlier, a group of Oak Park elementary students would have been denied a chance to visit a high-tech, "green" facility in the city.
The visit went off without a hitch or a snow day, Jan. 31, as students from Brooks Middle School and Longfellow Elementary School visited the Chicago Center for Green Technology. The trip is part of a spring-long educational program teaching kids about conversation, green energy and environmental sustainability.
The program falls under District 97's Global Village initiative, which links kids with adults working in the science field. The two schools are partnering with the Chicago-based, home energy contracting company EnergyMen. It was Brooks teacher Phyllis Frick's idea to have the students link up with EnergyMen, and her sixth-grade class, along with third-graders and their teacher from Longfellow, toured the Chicago Center for Technology.
Originally an old waste-dumping facility, the city of Chicago gave the West Side facility a multimillion-dollar face-lift in the late '90s. It has since been transformed into a green technology education center, sporting a green roof, solar panels, and offering tours and workshops to the public.
Early last month, the Brooks and Longfellow kids did an "energy assessment" of their homes and shared that data at a joint get-together at Brooks. They'll use a Wiki website (where information can be edited, stored and accessed by mostly anyone) to input their data. Frick's vision is to be able to have students share and analyze their data online with other students globally.
"I've never done a computer-based program like this before," she said. "To be able to use this technology and interaction with other schools is something I've always wanted to do with students."
She would like the students to be able to connect with other parts of the country and learn how energy efficient other places are. But the kids first had to learn how to undertake an energy assessment themselves.
Scott Grafft, co-founder and executive with EnergyMen, will be working with the kids this spring. He was with them on the tech center tour and helped the students last month learn how to do a home energy assessment. That includes using a thermographic, or infrared, camera to detect heating and cooling flow in homes. He even took photos of the kids using the camera, which showed them as glowy, ghostly looking figures.
Later in the spring, the students will create a Public Service Announcement concerning clean, green living, likely by Earth Day on April 22.