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Pilot projects teach NJ students green engineering

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CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, N.J. (AP) — Cape May Technical High School teacher Joseph Schmidt calls it the "ultimate solar-powered tailgater," but you probably haven't seen one yet in the parking lot before a football game.

It starts with a solar panel on a cart, which feeds into batteries and electrical inverters before powering a Coleman stove and a small refrigerator. Elijah Gandy, 17, a senior from Corbin City, created it.

"It works. It does what it's told to do," Gandy said.

Whether it catches on or not doesn't really matter as long as Gandy learned some things. The goal at Cape May Tech is to teach green engineering because that's where future jobs may be. Students could end up in the solar panel or wind turbine fields, working with geothermal systems, or installing energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, or HVAC, in homes.

The school is one of six pilot projects in the state doing this, Todd Menadier, director of field implementation for the New Jersey Green Program of Study, told The Press of Atlantic City (http://bit.ly/VazvGk ). Five of the six are at technical schools; the others are in Camden, Passaic, Hunterdon, and Bergen counties.

Menadier works for the state Department of Education but is assisting the pilot schools as they create curriculums for the program. Schmidt's class teaching environmental engineering is just one of the classes that have been created locally. Menadier said schools are basically being allowed to develop their own programs, and in most cases they have been teaching him things instead of vice versa.

"I give technical assistance as needed and make sure the lessons are working. I'm learning more from schools that develop the curriculum than I've taught them," Menadier said.

The goal is to educate students on how to lead the green revolution that many say is coming.

"The big picture is to apply the science and change the world," said Nancy Wheeler Driscoll, the school's director of curriculum and Instruction.

While alternative energy systems may replace fossil fuels someday, the immediate jobs may be in greener HVAC systems, said HVAC and sustainable energy teacher Craig Migliaccio.

"It's a field to go in and reduce energy consumption in a home by 15 to 30 percent just by fine tuning the equipment. We can design them to be much more energy efficient and tie to sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal," Migliaccio said.

As such systems get more high-tech, a trained workforce will be needed. Migliaccio said his students might land jobs with utilities such as South Jersey Gas or Atlantic City Electric, work on alternative energy projects, or go on to college for more training. Driscoll said the school has an agreement with three colleges to offer college credits for some of the courses they are offering.

"Stockton, Burlington County College and Farleigh Dickinson will grant college credits for students that complete the program. They could enter college with one semester," Driscoll said.

The school may have one advantage over traditional high schools. While students take traditional courses here such as math and history, they also have a culinary program, diesel mechanics and other courses that seem to fit nicely into the green studies.

Knowledge of diesel engines, for example, is helping teacher Julie Stratton's environmental literacy class. Her students are working on a project to run a diesel school bus with waste from the kitchen.

"It's a bio-diesel product," explained senior John Pettus, 17, from Ocean City. "We take vegetable oil from our kitchen, mix it with methanol and heat it up to 200 degrees. We want to run our bus with it so we don't have to keep buying diesel, and it cuts down on emissions," Pettus said.

The school also teaches welding and masonry, and Stratton said she has students experimenting with these disciplines to try and create a more energy-efficient house. Small models of the homes, an all-metal house and a masonry adobe, will be built first.

"Then they will build larger ones. I'm not sure how large. They will do a scale experiment on energy efficiency," Stratton said.

Taylor Henry, 17, of Wildwood, already has a house she will use to make more energy-efficient with solar panels and possible even a makeshift wind turbine. It's an old boathouse on school property.

Next to Pettus, Molly Cunningham, 17, of Wildwood, is working on a simple solar oven made from recycled materials that can use the sun's rays to make dinner. Stratton said the class is not just about science, she also teaches social, economic, political and sustainability reasons for going green.

Driscoll said the green curriculum is on the way to reaching Career Technical Education, or CTE, status.

The teachers, Driscoll noted, also needed some extra training. Many took Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEEDS, courses.

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Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com

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