BRATTLEBORO -- When Brattleboro Union High School science teacher Mike Auerbach heard about a new project the town's energy committee was taking on he thought there would be an opportunity for his students to take part.
At the 2013 Representative Town Meeting George Harvey introduced a resolution that would have Brattleboro take part in Project Atlantic, an initiative that has towns and cities in the United States look at what similarly sized municipalities in Europe are doing to become more energy efficient.
Auerbach went to a meeting last year hosted by the Brattleboro Energy Committee, and when he heard about Project Atlantic he wanted to get the students in his Environmental Science and Policy class involved.
"The whole idea is to get young people involved and to let people in Brattleboro know about new energy ideas," Auerbach said. "I though that was something we could make a part of our course."
A large part of the fall semester was spent investigating alternative energy sources that are being used in Europe and around Brattleboro.
The class produced a series of short films that have been combined into a longer film that is now helping shed a light on the possibilities of increasing sustainable energy options in Brattleboro and beyond.
The BUHS film will have its local premier Thursday night, June 5, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the Marlboro Graduate Center as part of the Slow Living Summit.
The film also showed at the Local Energy Solutions Conference in Tilton, N.H., in April and it is scheduled to show at the Vermont Energy & Climate Action Network conference in April.
Following his meeting with the Brattleboro Energy Committee Auerbach had his students choose different energy sources and interview an expert on the topic. They also had to create an info-graphic and put together the short video.
Nick Grubinger, who was in the fall Environmental Science and Policy class, said it was clear from the start that the project was going to be different from what he typically was asked to do in high school.
"It was nice to work on something that benefits the community instead of just doing school work," he said. "So much of what we do in school is just curriculum and you don't really see what it does. This had relevance and it was important. It was great to be a part of it."
Grubinger and his partner looked at solar power. They went up to the solar farm in Putney to learn about community solar projects and looked at two towns in Europe that get most of the energy from solar power.
"We were blown away by the stuff that is out there," Grubinger said about what he learned in his research and from the other films.
"I thought it was a futuristic idea to have a town with 100 percent sustainable energy," he said. "But we saw towns in Europe that do that. I was blown away."
Julia Dundorf is the Energy & Climate Change Program Director at the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund and she invited Auerbach and his students to the Local Energy Solutions Conference in Tilton, N.H., in April. Their presentation was well received at the conference, she said, both on how well produced the video was as well as on how passionate the students were about their work.
Dundorf said she hopes more schools can use the model of producing student work that presents real energy solutions for nearby communities to consider.
"Project Atlantic demonstrates innovation that is built on youth leadership, school-based educational programming and community partnerships; a winning combination that we love to see," Dundorf said. "The Brattleboro students have shown amazing maturity, passion and commitment to Project Atlantic. Towns, schools and civic groups struggle to engage communities in building stronger, healthier and more resilient communities. A project like this inherently builds in such engagement."
Early on in the semester Auerbach said it became apparent that the students were approaching the project with genuine enthusiasm.
Even though the semester ended in January Auerbach said there was no problem convincing some of the class to take a day away from their spring break and go up to the conference to talk about their film.
And in anticipation of the Brattleboro showing, the students have been tweaking their work even though their grades are in the book and some of them are graduating in a few weeks.
Auerbach said the creativity, their interest in sustainability, as well as the idea that they were producing work that was going to be useful in advancing alternative energy all encouraged the students to "own their work."
"We started out trying to get the students engaged in the community in a real way and it became meaningful for them," Auerbach said. "Instead of throwing work at students we were throwing students at the work, and it really made a difference."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.