Solar+ Schools Spotlight: Cove Creek School

January 28, 2022

For this month’s featured school, we are highlighting Cove Creek School in Vilas, North Carolina. Cove Creek is a PreK-8 public school with a passion for sustainability that it takes very seriously. The school is recognized as a North Carolina Green School of Excellence and has a Green Team of parents, teachers and community members who make sure that environmental education is at the forefront of students’ experiences. Cove Creek also received the everGREEN Award for Sustainability from the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce for 2019.

Cove Creek was first selected as an alternate school for the 2017 NC GreenPower Solar+ Schools grant year. However, when an awarded school dropped out of the program and a spot opened up, an enthusiastic parent brought the opportunity to the attention of Kelly Walker, Cove Creek’s principal. Other parents, teachers and community members were willing to support the cause, and it took off from there. “It was a true collaborative effort,” said Kelly.

NC GreenPower Solar+ Schools provides grants for solar educational projects, complete with a 5-kilowatt solar array, a weather station, real-time data monitoring equipment, an energy curriculum and teacher training. Any K-12 school in North Carolina can apply, and NC GreenPower provides online tools to assist with raising the necessary funds.

We reached out to Kelly to learn more about Cove Creek, her experiences with the program and how it has influenced students and the local community.

NCGP: What kind of sustainability efforts are present at the school?

Kelly: Cove Creek has quite a history of incorporating sustainability on campus and in the classroom. During the first decade in our new building (established in the 1990s), the school community built a greenhouse and hiking trail. Raised beds were added near the lower elementary classrooms next and included composting bins. The last few years have brought a big expansion to the school garden, salamander monitoring in the creek, an observational honeybee hive, expanded recycling programs, water bottle filling stations and now a solar array!

We have in-house recycling of aluminum, plastic, paper and cardboard, primarily completed by students. We have teachers who have taken time to develop a comprehensive Blooms and Buzz Day that was solely based on sustainability and environmental efforts. We have collaborated with the Sustainability Club at Watauga High School as well as FFA and are happy to announce that we have hired a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher whose focus will be on agriculture for the coming years. (CTE teachers provide training in vocational and technical subjects to empower students for effective participation in the international economy.)

NCGP: Can you talk about how your fundraising efforts involved the greater community with renewable energy?

Kelly: The fundraising goal was a bit daunting at first. We are a very small school in a rural area, far from any sizeable city. However, the local community came through, proving once again that the Boone area and greater Watauga County support cultivating the knowledge and skills needed to sustain this beautiful place we inhabit.

Our fundraising team of parents, teachers, administrators and students got the word out at school and community events, and some large contributions came as a result. The business community provided most of the funding, and we are grateful that so many businesses give back so much. Donors were quite diverse and included a church, climate action advocacy group, the local electric cooperative and doctors. This diversity was particularly encouraging, proving that we can support things for very different reasons and collectively make good things happen!

One thing that we think made the fundraising efforts successful was our decision from the beginning to not raise money through candy sales, bake sales, pizza sales or sales on the backs of our students and families in our Title 1 school. That decision allowed us to target how we promoted the opportunity, and we knew from whom we would request funds. We had a great situation in which a parent who cuts hair at a local salon, Haircut 101, with a very environmentally focused owner, held a cut-a-thon to raise money for the project. Our community rallied behind us and was so excited to see the project meet its goal.

NCGP: What type of reactions have you gotten from students about the installation? Are they excited to learn about the solar array?

Kelly: Because it is so new and many of us adults in the building are still learning about it, how it is used and how it can be incorporated into the science and math standards, student reactions have been enthusiastic, but they are not sure how we will use the array in their academic learning. So far, we have four teachers who are trained, and we plan to train more in how to utilize the array.

Do the kids love having a solar array in the back of the school? Of course! Are they respectful about it and ask their teachers questions? Of course. More to come as we, the educators, set up opportunities for them to learn and explore.

NCGP: What type of connection to other community programs or to Appalachian State University have come as a result of the installation?

Kelly: The Appalachian Energy Center at ASU supported the effort with a follow-on grant to ensure Cove Creek teachers could attend the NC GreenPower training and that they have the resources they need to implement what they learned. We look forward to partnering on more energy education efforts that reach more of the school district, too.

We anticipate that teachers will continue to collaborate with various sustainability programs and experts at ASU to guide them in the various ways that the solar array can add value to our science and math curriculum. We will also be looking for folks to help us understand how we can evaluate the effects of the solar array on financial savings at Cove Creek and teach the next generation how important different types of energy sources are for saving our planet.

Interested in getting solar for your schools? Learn more here!