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Power Patrol urges teachers to save energy

MAPLEWOOD - Room 107 got a smiley face, but Room 113 got a frowny face. The class in 113 will have to be more careful to turn off the lights if it doesn't want another visit from - the Power Patrol!

Nine students from Maplewood Elementary School's elected student council have given up most of their lunch period once a week to roam the halls and check that each empty classroom has the lights turned off.

The Power Patrol hangs happy or sad door tags on each one to emphasize the importance of saving energy.

Second-grade teacher Marianne McClenaghan said the program has helped her think of ways to use less energy. For example, when she comes in to work in the morning before school, she found she only needs the light from a short strand of Christmas lights.

'I think it's really good,' McClenaghan said. 'The kids are really good at reminding me to turn off the lights, and I'm trying to be very good at it.'

She added that other teachers have also talked about the positive impact the program has had on the school.

The effort is part of a larger push in 15 Portland Public Schools to reduce their energy usage and teach the value of sustainability to their students. Called the 2008 PPS Energy Challenge, each school - including Jackson Middle School, East Sylvan and West Sylvan elementary schools - is required to perform and submit weekly Power Patrol audits; find ways to educate the student body, faculty and parents about the program and the importance of conserving energy; and keep those folks updated on their progress.

Maplewood's Power Patrol developed a skit to educate their classmates at an all-school assembly on energy consumption and recycling.

Principal John Blanck said he's noticed how enthusiastic the children have become about saving energy.

'I'm fascinated with how taken with the idea they are. We've got a remarkable group of kids that are really interested in green issues,' Blanck said.

The three-month challenge ends in March, but no data were yet available on the success of the program at press time.

The schools to successfully complete the program will receive a $500 cash incentive this year. Last year, schools were competing against each other for a grand prize, and some saved more than 10 percent of their energy bill.

Maplewood did not participate last year, but Katie Fairhead, the district's energy conservation coordinator, said the school could expect to save about 5 percent of its energy bill.

Maplewood's energy bill topped $16,188 last fiscal year, meaning a 5-percent reduction could save the district more than $800 in utilities for the school.

But as the kids know, it's not just about saving money.

'I think it's fun, and it's also important,' said student body president Perry Taylor. 'The more resources we save, the more we'll have.'

Fellow fifth-grader Mimi Guzman agreed. 'I like it because everyone should be good to the environment, and if you don't turn lights off . . . it will lead to global warming.'