Off the Grid, but Deep into Learning

The STAR (Service To All Relations) School is a charter school located in rural northern Arizona, 30 miles from Flagstaff in the southwestern corner of the Navajo Nation. The community-based school serves a population of students that is entirely Native American. The school’s green, sustainable infrastructure helped earn it its designation as one of  the U.S. Department of Education’s inaugural Green Ribbon Schools in 2012.

From the Sun and the Wind

STAR School was the first charter school in the country to be completely off the power grid, generating 100 percent of its own power from the sun and the wind. Using solar energy, this innovative school prides itself on keeping greenhouse gas pollution out of the atmosphere. Solar power inverters used to power the school provide a minute-by-minute record of the carbon dioxide the school has saved the planet.

The land on which the school is built formerly served as a junk yard, and the property had no power or water lines. That led to the decision to design the school to generate its own power, and to provide its own water from a well. “Between solar and wind, we generate nearly 40,000 watts every day. We’re a mini power plant,” said the school’s co-founder and director, Dr. Mark Sorenson.

Navajo Traditions

While its remote rural location necessitated the school’s reliance on renewable energy, the decision to use renewable energy fits well with the principles of sustainable living that are intrinsic to the Navajo community the school serves. In addition to promoting renewable energy sources, The STAR School promotes self-reliance, and aims to prepare its students for the world of environmental challenges, empowered to contribute to a more sustainable future.

Sustainability education complements and reinforces the oldest Navajo traditions throughout the school. Students maintain a garden using Navajo practices and serve traditionally prepared, organic harvests in the school cafeteria. The school partners with Northern Arizona University to gather data on air, water, and soil quality, and to provide student mentoring in engineering and sciences. Each student is expected to complete an individual or group project during the middle-school years that meets identifiable national STEM standards, investigates and provides possible solutions to environmental and sustainability challenges chosen by the student, and provides service to the community.

STAR Energy, a student-made documentary short about Solar and Wind Energy at the STAR School, was produced by a team of 7th– and 8th-grade students, and won First Place in the Middle School Microshort category at the Arizona Student Film Festival. The film also won the Grand Prize for the Middle School Age Division at The Colorado Environmental Film Festival in Golden, CO. In addition to the energy video, the school’s media program has produced other short films with environmental themes.

Vanessa Bullwinkle

Vanessa Bullwinkle

Vanessa Bullwinkle is Director of Communications for Project Learning Tree.

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