Mount Sentinel Secondary students have successfully pitched a project that will install solar panels at the school. L-R: Teacher Danny Leeming, students Adriana Wilson, Daniela Sirois and Deity Daunheimer. Photo: Tyler Harper

Mount Sentinel Secondary students have successfully pitched a project that will install solar panels at the school. L-R: Teacher Danny Leeming, students Adriana Wilson, Daniela Sirois and Deity Daunheimer. Photo: Tyler Harper

Student-led initiative leads to solar system approved for Kootenay high school

Mount Sentinel Secondary’s Grade 12 students will raise money every year for additional panels

Adriana Wilson hasn’t quite yet graduated from her Kootenay high school, but she’s already seen her home change in ways that unsettle her.

Born and raised in the region, the Grade 12 student remembers three years ago when flash-flooding destroyed homes in Grand Forks and watches the now-annual wildfires in B.C. that choke the air.

What, she wonders, will the Kootenays look like in a decade? And will she still be able to make it her home?

“I know, at least for myself and a few of my classmates, we talked about the fact that we were scared to have kids, because we didn’t know if there was gonna be much left by the time they grew up.”

Wilson is one of 12 environmentally-conscious students part of the Green Team at Mount Sentinel Secondary, located between Nelson and Castlegar, who have provided one small but practical solution: solar panels.

This month, School District 8 trustees voted to spend $27,000 for start-up costs and first 10 panels installed on the school’s roof.

A portion of money raised every year by Grade 12 students for their graduation will then fund five-to-15 panels annually at a cost of about $240 per panel.

Fourteen years from now, when the project is complete, the hope is there will be 160-to-190 panels on the roof generating approximately 57,000 kilowatts per hour and saving the school $12,000 in annual electrical costs, or about half the school’s use, according to director of operations Bruce MacLean.

Wilson says she believes annual fundraising for the panels will encourage future students to do more climate change work and build off the project.

Grade 12 student Daniela Sirois has been part of the Green Team for five years, helping with the installation of a bee hive, the construction of an outdoor classroom and wildlife-friendly composting on school grounds.

But last year, during a brainstorming session in teacher Danny Leeming’s social studies class, Sirois and other students wondered what more they could do.

“We wanted to focus our energy on one thing really [that] would make something real, that would leave a lasting impact on the school after we left,” said Sirois.

Leeming said he had heard from his students that they were more interested in working on projects that mitigate climate change rather than just learning the science behind it. The solar panel project, he said, makes it easy for students to contribute.

The group came up with four ideas and in the spring of 2020 made a presentation to school board, but less than a month later the pandemic delayed their ambitions.

Instead of scrapping their plans, the students spent the next year focusing on one of the ideas for a solar panel installation before returning to the board earlier this month. The presentation so impressed the board that a special vote was held so the project could be added at the last minute to next year’s budget.

It was the rare time bureaucracy didn’t impede climate change action, Sirois lamented.

“I think it’s always been kind of confusing for me … just wondering why aren’t we doing more, what else could we be doing?” she said. “And then when you’re actually trying to generate change, it’s so hard to convince people and you have to push so hard.”

Deity Daunheimer joined the Green Team this year. As a test case, she decided to sell baked goods to see how much she could raise.

By the end of the day, Daunheimer already had enough for one panel.

The importance of the project, she said, is something that she will take to university next year and beyond.

“I think just as an individual it’s important to just express your thoughts and be a part of making a better community for everybody else.”

To make a donation to Mount Sentinel’s solar panel project, click here to visit the Green Team’s Gofundme page.

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