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June 24, 2009 > Irvington High wins title of 'America's greenest school'

Irvington High wins title of 'America's greenest school'

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By Miriam G. Mazliach

For months anticipation had been building, as thousands of people across the country voted online for their favorite school. The prize - the title of "America's Greenest School" and a $200,000 hybrid electric school bus, donated by IC Bus.

Just a few months earlier, Alex Chen and Jasper Lin, sophomores and friends since elementary school had approached Clint Johns, who teaches the "Green Advisory" class, a theoretically based environmental program which, Johns says, "Includes anything to get students motivated toward the subject."

"Alex Chen and Jasper Lin weren't even in 'Green Academy," he continues. They spoke to him after taking COSMOS, a month long course at UC Davis for high-achieving Math and Science students in high school. Chen and Lin did projects that helped them develop an appreciation for real-world problem solving. According to Chen, "It was the foundation of many of the ideas that we have pursued."

Chen and Lin told Johns that they wanted to help the school by painting the roofs white to help the heating and cooling efficiency of Irvington High." Instead, Johns gave them information about a $250 grant from PG& E. They completed the application process and spent a month producing a supplemental video about the solar panel project. The project consisted of interviews with Principal Pete Murchison, Clint Johns and other teachers talking about what the school had done to "go green."

After its completion, Chen and Lin, decided to take on another project that teacher Johns had discovered online - the "American's Greenest School" contest. Says Johns, "They're super motivated with 4.5 GPAs as sophomores, and are doing post college level work, as far as I'm concerned."

The contest required an entrant to complete and submit the registration form and a 500-word essay, on how their school is committed to "going green." Chen submitted the essay with Lin's assistance, focusing on what students could do to reduce their carbon footprint. Although told of their win in mid-May, the secret had to be kept until the public announcement was made on June 12.

John McKinney, president of IC Bus, headquartered in Illinois, came for the presentation. "From over 2,000 essay entrants we chose 10, from which the public was able to vote for their favorite online. We received over 30,000 votes," said McKinney.

IC Bus is the nation's #1 bus manufacturer. According to McKinney, "IC developed the first plug-in electric hybrid bus. This feature makes it different from Hybrid Electric Vehicles, by being able to charge the batteries by plugging in the vehicle. Fuel savings can reach 70 percent." McKinney continues, "Every school bus takes 36 cars off the road daily, reducing greenhouse gases. It is our responsibility to push environmental choices and educate the public to the eco-friendly hybrid we produce."

Going with the "green momentum" at the ceremony, Mayor Wasserman commented, "This is a great achievement. We are so proud of the kids who made this happen. The City of Fremont has some hybrid cars and we hope to buy a few more and take advantage of the electric cars coming out of GM. We have about $75,000 in stimulus money to replace some cars with hybrids."

Other local politicians, school board and district representatives, classmates, teachers, and family members gathered to see Chen and Lin accept the hybrid electric school bus. "

Today we are here to reward the school that supports what we're about, said McKinney. 'America's Greenest School' fits Irvington like a glove. We are very excited."

The school bus will be delivered in time for the fall school year. Irvington and the school district will inform IC Bus about their requirements and specifications for the bus. It will then be the first ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant hybrid bus built in the U.S.

Principal Murchison pointed out, "Everyone wants acknowledgement for his/her hard work and we have the tangible results right here. This has been going on for 10 years at Irvington, service learning of 40-hours for seniors, eco-friendly programs and projects. We're hoping that the bus will be a public symbol, every time someone sees it, to remind people what Irvington and the district are doing by going green. We would like to change habits and minds to think green every day through all the decisions people make."

IC Bus President McKinney also presented Chen with a $5,000 scholarship check and teacher Johns, with a $3,000 check for the purchase of "green classroom supplies." Chen and Lin co-wrote the essay, however, the competition only allowed for one participant to enter.

Lin's mom, Christine, was very proud. "It was a great surprise. Mr. Johns helped when he told us to spread the word. With everyone's help, they made it."

Commenting on their remarkable accomplishment, Chen's mother, Leah, said, "I'm really proud of them for doing something to benefit the community, not themselves, but for society. Alex is really interested in new technology. He had the right partner, teacher, school and community, to do this for."

The two students reflected on their experiences. "Yes, I haven't experienced something like this before, said Lin. I went online and had to deal with publicity and learned some new skills for life."

Chen added, "I'm really proud of the student involvement and commitment in the green movement as well as the school spirit during the voting phase. It is inspirational to a student when the public recognizes their work. I hope I can inspire and make a difference for other students."

As for painting the school's roofs white, Chen and Lin say they are still researching the possibility.

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