Thursday, May 19, 2005

Burlington Free Press Visits

The Burlington Free Press is sending a reporter to write a story on the carbon sequestration project. Jessica Hyman was especially nice in that she returned all our phone calls and was nice enough assign a reporter to cover us. We will provide a link to the story when it is published.

Future Plans for the Co-op....

One of the most prevalent and available alternative energy sources is solar energy. Once installed, solar energy provides clean energy without any byproducts or pollutants. By installing a solar panel system on at our school we cannot only produce our own energy, thereby becoming less dependent on energy companies, while also minimizing our carbon emissions. Indeed it is the only viable alternative that is available for the school. Unlike wind power, solar requires only direct sunlight. Because most of the energy would be collected during the summer months, the school would implement a net-metering system, where we roll back the energy meters for energy produced and sold back to Green Mountain Power. The credits from this energy would then be used during the winter months to buy the necessary energy to maintain the school. Because of this method, we will not contribute pollution that is typical in most solar projects from their battery leakage.

Using the numbers from last year, the school requires approximately 171,900-kilowatt hours of energy. Given our decreased demand from our energy-saving initiatives, that number could be lower for the coming year. The initial quoted price for a solar system for 100% energy was $400,000 in March. The demand for solar panels has not been keeping up with production. This is a daunting price for a small independent school and the process of designing, funding and building the system will begin during the fall semester. We will begin to look for funding from foundations and institutions that have strong commitment to the environment and learning.

The initial estimated space for solar panels is about 15,000 square feet with southern exposure. Because our school has a large west/east sloping roofs, we are seeking an off campus area to build our energy system. We are excited about this project and will be continuing it next year as well as writing grant proposals during the summer.

Kyler 11th Grade.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Message to the blogsphere...

I sent this message to several of my favorite blogs. Hopefully, I get a response.

Last Wednesday I sent out a press release about the Commons Co-op. It is a student run project dealing lowering greenhouse gas emissions by energy conservation and planting 1500 trees. The students at my school organized the project and achieved an 18% lowering of the schools electricity consumption and have lowered the schools net carbon emissions 100%. This is a great story on many levels. We use our blog to communicate with our community. It has been wonderful getting the kids to realize that their actions and writing mean something.

The problem is that I cannot get the TV stations in my area to cover this story. I called WCAX and WPTZ and talked to George Wilson and Tom Hallock. I got the complete run around. While they said they were interested they did not show up. This experience just reinforces some of the critiques of mainstream media. They are rather selective gatekeepers who will report stories that boost ratings and ignore positive stories that do not fit their political or economic model. Moreover, they are gatekeepers and trendsetters. The editorial board of a local news station can set the agenda and highlight an issue of importance in the community or ignore a problem. While I do not think that George and Tom are bad people, I do wonder what other positive news in my community that I am missing. Life is not dominated by murders and political scandal. People are raising good kids, companies are expanding and life just might be improving for lots of people. Sure there are problems, but there are a lot of people working on solutions. Unless these stories are told the negativity will continue. That seems to be a big part of the problem today. We don’t dream of a better world and have few popular examples of individuals creating positive change in our communities.

Since WCAX and WPTZ did not publish the story, I’m asking you to link to our blog. This project that the students created deserves some recognition. These kids are making a difference and they just may come up with a solution to some of the world’s problems.

The Trees are planted...

On Wednesday we planted 1500 trees and achieved our goal for the project. The students are working on final reports and some interesting future proposals. We will have some more information for you next Tuesday. Students enjoyed a picnic lunch with music soccer and more food then we could consume. We will post pictures and a more detailed story next week.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Letter to Parents

This letter was sent to the VCS community inviting them to participate in the tree planting. Frances is a 9th grader.

May 6, 2005

Dear VCS Parents:

On May 11th, The Vermont Commons School will travel to a property in Charlotte to plant 1,500 trees. This trip has been organized by the Commons Co-op: a Research and Service group made up of nine students from different grade levels and directed by Robert Skiff. The Co-op has spent the last trimester researching the school’s carbon emissions and coming up with a way to neutralize them. The amount of carbon that we produce is concerning because too much carbon contributes to pollution and depletion of the ozone layer.

After thoroughly researching all the possible solutions to our carbon output, the Co-op has singled out the best solution, carbon sequestration, and worked hard to begin the process. Carbon sequestration describes the planting of trees to neutralize as much carbon as the trees can absorb. As is commonly understood, carbon is an essential element to life. Therefore, if we plant enough trees, we can neutralize the school’s carbon emissions and work toward a greener, cleaner planet. The Co-op has done all the calculations and figured out that to neutralize our emissions for this year we need to plant approximately1,500 trees. A family from the school has agreed to let us plant the trees on their property in Charlotte. The school has decided to make this a project that the entire student body can participate in, and so all students will travel to the site on May 11th, and contribute their help. This way the planting will go much more quickly, and will be more fun for everyone. The day has been turned into a planting Fiesta. There will be food and music; fun is guaranteed. The Co-op would like to involve the VCS parents as well, so we are asking that any parent, who has the time, would come and join us to work on our worthy cause. There are a few items that each student will need to bring with them to school on the planting day: sunscreen, work gloves, sun glasses, extra clothes, hats, boots, a water bottle, snack and if possible a shovel.

The Commons Co-op has been working hard to get this to happen; the trees have been delivered, and before the planting day, our class will go and prepare the site, (marking with paint the exact place to plant each tree.) The planting day is approaching quickly though and we have just enough time to be ready to plant on Wednesday, May 11th. We hope to see you all there!

The Vermont Commons Co-op.

The Press Release

With some help from Sarah and Cara, Kyler wrote this press release. It was send to all the major print and television media in Chittenden County, Vermont.

Press Release May 4, 2005

Students at the Vermont Commons School exceed the 10% Challenge and aim for zero net carbon dioxide emissions by planting 1500 trees on Wednesday, May 11th as part of Commons Co-Op Research & Service class.

Students at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington have been undertaking an ambitious project inspired by both Vermont’s 10% Challenge and Vermont Commons School’s strong commitment to ecological citizenship. The goal of the 10% Challenge is to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by ten percent.

The Research & Service program combines research methodologies and community service applications in a multi-aged setting that encourages leadership and fosters group skills. Students are given a choice of classes that range from heavily environmentally based projects, e.g., the construction of an artificial wetland, to more community-oriented projects, e.g., the recording of histories of people in a retirement home. This program allows students to use a multidisciplinary approach to effect real change.

This spring, eight students in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades are enrolled in the Commons Co-Op Research & Service class taught by Rob Skiff. Students have been studying energy consumption at the school and comparing it to the previous academic year. Even though the school’s physical plant has expanded in size by several thousand square feet over the previous school year, with the students’ efforts and energy saving initiatives, the school has documented more than 15,000 kilowatt hours and $1000 in energy savings. The class is focused on energy reduction and has made great strides in decreasing usage at the school. “The energy awareness that we have created in our school has been great! It is just one way we feel we can be an environmentally-friendly school,” remarked one of the students enrolled in the class.

After significantly reducing the school’s energy usage by 18.6% overall, the students then created a plan to have a net zero carbon emission for the current year. They researched the energy production in Chittenden County, and the students found the amount of carbon tons released by electricity consumption at the school. The plan calls for planting 1500 trees that over the course of ten years will have absorbed these emissions.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the entire Vermont Commons School community will gather to plant 1500 trees. “Our goal is to make sure people understand we are not planting trees for the sake of planting trees. We are planting trees that will take out the carbon that we are producing,” insisted Kyler Robinson, a junior from Shelburne and student in the Commons Co-Op Research & Service class. Rob Skiff, teacher, added, “We’re making this a fun day as well as an assignment!” The trees will be planted at a location in Charlotte, beginning promptly at 9:00 a.m. The entire Vermont Commons School community will participate.

Vermont Commons School is an independent college preparatory day school for students in grades 7-12 in South Burlington. Known for its innovative curriculum and challenging academic courses, taught by devoted and dedicated faculty, with an average class size of just ten students, Vermont Commons School has a 100% placement record to four year college, for its graduates.

For further information, please contact Rob Skiff, Social Sciences Department Chair, 802-865-8084 or More information is also available at a student-created Blog at