Another Benefit of Hydro: Partners in Education

Students from the Park Community Charter School give a presentation on power generation following a partnership with Wisconsin’s Kaukauna Utilities.

Kaukauna Utilities believes in making people their highest priority. This has been a focus since the inception of this utility, whose seven hydropower facilities service more than 15,000 customers in northeast Wisconsin. It is in this spirit of “value to community through innovation” that Kaukauna Utilities leaders partnered with the local Park Elementary School to form a new learning experience called Park Community Charter School. Utility leaders were among the initial members of a governance council that fostered the concept and brought forward the National Energy Education Development (NEED) curriculum. Today, the collaboration offers a number of programs designed to spark an interest in science, engineering and other fields related to energy production and management.

Addressing a challenge

Built in 1897, Park Elementary School is located high atop one of the main streets in Kaukauna, Wisc. Until Fall 2011, the school provided a traditional elementary education to about 200 Kaukauna area residents. During Spring 2009, the leadership at Park Elementary proposed a differentiation in its learning experience and began the process of converting the school to a publicly-funded charter school.

Consultants were contracted to provide experience in the conversion. They toured the city and felt a number of local entities and historical sites — most within walking distance from the school — would be great candidates for learning opportunities and partnerships, including the city’s 1000 Islands Nature Center and Kaukauna Utilities.

Planning and implementation grants were written and a governance council that included Kaukana Utilities General Manger, Jeffery Feldt, was created. A number of key building blocks also had to be developed, namely the core curriculum and guiding principles.

The group eventually chose to emphasize place-based learning, a respectful climate and community connections as its core tenets.

Filling a NEED

In addition to selecting the school’s central values, the governance council chose the NEED curriculum as its core curriculum.

The NEED curriculum encourages students at all grade levels to learn about the forms of energy — including heat, light, motion, sound and electrical — with an emphasis on the scientific process and hands-on explorations.

Although numerous topics could be provided to students by Kaukauna Utilities, it is important that topics tie into the educators’ goals. Initially, brainstorming was undertaken to develop the initial group of offerings. Subsequent annual meetings have confirmed the initial offerings and opened the door for new offerings.

Kaukauna Utilities currently offers a number of programs for Park Community Charter School’s students, with many related directly to hydropower and facility operations and maintenance, including:

— Hydropower: Introduces students to hydroelectric generation and how it works, with visits to an operating generating facility;

— River Safety: Introduces students to low-head dams as well as the hazards they can present;

— Water System and Water Conservation: Students learn how potable water is procured, filtered, stored and used, along with grid concepts and resource management; and

— Operations Center and River Management: Students learn about maximizing hydropower generation and what environmental considerations must be taken into account while optimizing facility efficiency.

Other Kaukauna Utilities programs expose students to concepts of utility operations, energy efficiency, sustainability, solar and wind energy, safety, line maintenance and more. Since Park Community Charter School was formed in 2011, more than 500 students have had the opportunity to participate in the various Kaukauna Utilities programs. During any given school year, 250 Park Community Charter School students in kindergarten through fourth grade will learn about the many different aspects of Kaukauna Utilities.

The NEED curriculum inspired Park Community Charter School’s students to participate in a challenge hosted by Wisconsin civic group Sustainable Fox Valley, which pitted Park against four other neighboring schools in the Fox Valley area. The students and their families made energy-saving actions over a 12-week period, beating the other schools and earning a $1,500 reward for Park.

Results

Following its second year under the charter title in the 2012-2013 academic year, Park Community Charter School was again named Wisconsin Primary School of the Year and was a finalist for the National Primary School of the Year by the NEED Project Board of Directors. Four students attended the presentation of these awards in Washington, D.C., with expenses for two of the students provided by Kaukauna Utilities.

In addition, Kaukauna Utilities was awarded an Outstanding Stewards of America’s Water award in 2014 for its efforts to educate young people using energy and water wisely through it’s partnership with Park Community Charter School.

This award represents Kaukauna Utilities commitment to providing educational opportunities for local students. Ultimately, the results of this endeavor will come many years down the road, when these young people become adults.

Kaukauna Utilities hopes the experiences provided to the students will result in a life-long appreciation for their community, life-long energy and water efficient behaviors, and a passion to further their education in the electric or water industries.

This fall, Kaukauna Utilities will enter its fifth school year in partnership with Park Commnity Charter School. Each new year brings exciting opportunities to expand the program to provide unique learning opportunities.

While the biggest cost is allocating staff time to work with the students on the various programs, the reward of knowing Kaukauna Utilities is making a difference in these students’ lives is well worth it.

— By Jeffery Feldt, general manager, Kaukauna Utilities

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