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Sustainability projects sprout up in Tempe Union

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Posted: Saturday, August 18, 2012 9:49 am

The Tempe Union High School District partnered with Chevron two years ago to facilitate sustainability projects at the seven different high schools around Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills.

Since then, Chevron has provided funding, resources and trainers to district schools to complete projects and teach teachers how to incorporate these projects into the curriculum.

At Desert Vista, they are working on several sustainability projects, including the use of solar panels.

Dan Zavaleta is at the forefront of incorporating student work into these projects at DV. He has a history at the school, having worked their since its opening, and sees this partnership with Chevron, which he says is one of the first of its kind, as a positive step forward.

“You have an energy company stepping up and they are not just giving the students the materials and walking away,” he said. “Their commitment has been great and it is an exciting time to be working in this area.”

Zavaleta and his students have contributed to an area in Fiji that for the most part is without power. Eight years ago he and two others installed a diesel generator that distributes power to a small village there. Then three years ago they installed solar panels which are used to power LED lights in the classrooms.

“It made a huge difference because after they were installed, the kids were able to stay after school and continue to study by the light,” he said. “With the energy the panels generate, they are able to stay for up to five hours after school to study.”

His students designed the system through a class project which involved figuring out how many solar panels they needed, how much energy they would generate, how long the LED lights could be powered, and so on. After testing at the school, Zavaleta returned to Fiji and installed the system that is still in place today.

“It was all up to the kids to figure out the systems,” he said.

The projects are only expected to get bigger and more intensive at TUHSD high schools. Other projects include a natural gas heat pump at Marcos de Niza that provides power to a single classroom, an energy storage device (battery) at Mountain Pointe, a natural gas fuel cell at Corona del Sol, and a solar thermal system at McClintock.

“We’re teaching them the technology that is out there to be a little more energy efficient,” Zavaleta said. “And the most important part is that it’s hands on and it’s fun at the same time.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

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