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Kitsap school teaches environmental conservation

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BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) — Forty-five feet above South Kitsap High School's athletic field, the 6-foot-long blades of a wind turbine turn gracefully in the breeze. The blades are flared at the tips, like aircraft wings, and the turbine head has a sensor mechanism allowing it to swivel with the slightest shift in wind direction for maximum power output.

The $60,000 turbine, obtained through a grant from the Office of Naval Research, has been running for about a month and has been a great conversation-starter around campus.

The OMG factor is one reason the high school's Career and Technical Education Department pursued the grant in the first place. The hope is that passing curiosity will grow into a hunger for knowledge about how it works, said Chance Gower, CTE instructional specialist, who wrote the grant proposal with Sara Hatfield, agriculture instructor.

The Navy is keen to promote an interest in science, technology, engineering and math among K-12 students, said Corinne Beach, STEM K-12 outreach coordinator for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The Navy is pumping money into efforts to recruit and train younger people while exploring more cost-efficient forms of energy

The wind turbine is the most visible aspect of the high school's focus on environmental conservation. The school also has solar panels on its livestock barn, a sophisticated composting system and a "pig toilet," for processing livestock waste. Discovery Alternative High School students this year took over earlier efforts to reintroduce salmon to Karcher Creek. All of the high school's environmental initiatives are grant-funded.

The number of energy conservation projects at SKHS has earned attention for the school's natural resources curriculum, said Thomas Mosby, CTE director. Science teachers outside the natural resources program also are eager to share in data and curricula being developed by CTE staff.

Gower is working on a computer program that will allow students to track the turbine's energy output and compare its efficiency to the barn's solar panels. The wind turbine eventually will help power the high school's greenhouse to offset power consumption. The solar panels last year earned the district a $917 rebate from Puget Sound Energy.

The high school's Naval Research grant, obtained in 2011, was for up to $100,000. Gower and Hatfield have other ideas for expanding the energy efficiency curriculum. But the remainder of funding has been frozen as Congress battles the budget deficit.

Last week at the pig barn, agriculture students were awaiting the imminent birth of piglets. The barn houses 14 pigs, including two monstrous boars.

"They produce a fair amount of waste (each day)," said Christopher Wilske, a senior who has managed the barn since his sophomore year.

The "pig toilet" involves channels inside the barn that students can hose down into an underground tank. The tank can be flushed into the city's wastewater treatment system. Pigs, unlike other livestock animals, eat a lot of protein, which contains potentially harmful bacteria. Flushing the waste keeps bacteria out of the landfill and saves disposal costs.

The barn's composting system makes use of food scraps from the cafeteria and wood chips from carpentry classes. The rich material that is produced fertilizes plants that students sell to support the agriculture program.

"It's definitely important," Wilske said of environmental conservation. "If we don't do that now, we won't have anything left 50 years from now."

On Karcher Creek, Discovery students and their teacher Jerry Polley have cleared the creek of debris and created channels to a hatchery renovated in 2010 in a collaboration between the district and Port Orchard Rotary. The students monitor trays of salmon fry, grown from eggs purchased from a hatchery on Minter Creek. By passing water from Karcher Creek over the trays, students are imprinting on the coho and chum fry information that will allow them to navigate back to the creek to spawn.

Karcher Creek is one of the most polluted streams in the county, said Matt Henderson, a senior who leads the creek restoration team. The students can't address all points of pollution on the creek, but they are encouraged after seeing some of the fry they recently released surviving in pools downstream.

"That's why I'm doing this, so my kids and grandchildren have fish to catch," Henderson said. "Three, four years from now, you never know, I may be out there hooking one."

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Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/

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