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Alternative Energy at CHS shines

May 30, 2014

CHS junior Ben Knight explains to Cody Washburn how he and his peers built a radiant heater with plastic pipe, glass, and wood scraps. The heater is powered by the sun and can be used to heat homes.

Been thinking about converting to solar power?
The students in Colville High School’s Alternative Energy class can do that. Building a radiant heater? They can do that too. In fact, when it comes to alternative energy and creating the means to harness it, there’s not much the students can’t do. Money and time are the only restrictions.
Last Tuesday’s Colville Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd got a preview of some of the students’ projects. Electrical boxes with wiring and components lined tables in the conference room of the Eagles’ Lodge. Outside, solar panels and motors made up larger displays that teenagers presented after the Chamber meeting.
Needless to say, the audience was impressed. The students in the class are learning concepts and applications that most would-be engineers don’t comprehend until college.
But the know-how doesn’t come overnight. One of the core lessons the class teaches, said Todd Strobel, is not how to succeed, but how to fail.
“Our educational system is built around constantly pushing kids to jump straight from mediocrity to success, and that failure is a thing to be feared and avoided,” said Strobel. “The fact is, you can’t be successful without failing. So the kids are allowed to fail in this class. Not every project comes together the way you designed it, so you have to look at your mistakes and try again. You keep trying until you get it right.”

Projects in the works

Started in 2010, the Alternative Energy program has turned into a force to be reckoned with, collaborating with Spokane Community Colleges and Gonzaga University. By reusing recycled parts sponsored by local community businesses, teens are given hands-on, application-based training in physics and electronics.
Most of the parts the students use are donated by local businesses like Avista, Colmac Coil, and others. Sometimes, an individual will bring in spare parts like pipes, motors or electrical boxes they no longer use or find on their property.
“If there are any businesses with electronics that people are thinking about throwing away, please call and let us know,” said Strobel. “This type of technology is all over our area, so if there’s anyone out there who would like to see what we are doing or have any experiences with installing an alternative energy source in their own home, we’d like to hear from them.”
According to Strobel, Cen¬tral Washington University is currently working with the Colville School District to turn the alternative energy class into a four-credit college curriculum.
The students have also accepted a challenge from multinational company Boeing to turn their solar tracker into a portable device that can be used by U.S. soldiers for everything from charging a radio to heating water.
*Read the whole story in the Statesman-Examiner, May 28 edition.

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