A “pretty cool” legacy – Highlands School students design solar powered outdoor classroom

Highlands School Birmingham Alabama
Highlands School Birmingham Alabama
Highlands School 8th grade students unpacking new solar panels for their solar powered outdoor classroom
“As eighth graders, we are able to leave a legacy. This is a pretty cool one.” ~ Amelia Neiman, student at Highlands School

Last year, Highlands School hosted its semi-annual auction to raise funds for exciting new projects and additions to the Highlands campus. One target project was a solar powered outdoor classroom at the center of the campus.

As part of the 2016-2017 8th grade Environmental Science class, students worked with Middle School Science Teacher, Sam Kindervater to design the outdoor classroom.

Highlands School Birmingham Alabama
Eighth grade Highlands School students

Kindervater initiated conversations with Eagle Solar & Light (ESL) last August to assist students in designing a solar powered outdoor classroom. Through multiple conversations and meetings, ESL assisted the 8th graders in determining product specifications, designing the classroom through AutoCAD, and finalizing an off-grid solar system.

“The students showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the Solar Pavilion project. They actively researched and developed a design for the structure and compiled data on energy consumption needs to determine the specifications for the solar panels,” said Sam Kindervater. “It was a true project-based learning opportunity in which the students developed and implemented a real-world application of classroom concepts related to energy resources, alternatives to conventional sources of electricity, and the design and function of solar panels. The Solar Pavilion will be a lasting legacy, both as an engaging outdoor classroom space and as a hands-on learning resource.”

Birmingham Alabama

After the classroom structure was completed in March, ESL consummated the solar design to insure compatibility with the structural rafter system, and moved forward with procurement, scheduling, and installation.

 “The system feeds six electrical outlets in the classroom that students can use for powering laptops and other devices,” said Robert Hanson, business development & sales with ESL. “The focal points of the system are the Lumos solar modules, a functional, yet aesthetic, and architecturally beautiful translucent product. These are the first Lumos solar modules installed in the Birmingham area.”

Highlands’ educational mission includes the belief that physical environments affect student morale and inspiration and ultimately serve as a vehicle for enhanced learning. This new solar capability helps create physical spaces that serve as a teaching tool in order to create a holistic learning environment for students. By enlisting the students themselves in the design process, there is increased thought given for the practical use of the space.

“Our faculty are always finding ways to have the students take ownership of their learning through real world application,” said Kavita Vasil, head of school at Highlands. “Through the funds raised at last year’s auction we have been able to let our graduating Middle School students leave their mark on the landscape and learning experience of the school.”

Solar Powered Outdoor Classroom
Solar panels installed on the roof of the Highlands Solar Powered Outdoor classroom

 On April 12, the project was finalized and students can now work outside with full electrical capability. Not only does this project provide convenience and flexibility to the students and faculty of Highlands, it also serves as an enduring learning opportunity on the use of alternative energy sources.

– Information for this story provided by a Highlands School news release.  For additional details about the Highlands School solar powered classroom, contact them at 205-956-6699.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.