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Five weeks and one plan: Pennington students win Lexus Eco Challenge
Five weeks and one plan: Pennington students win Lexus Eco Challenge

A team of seven Pennington students won the "Air and Climate Challenge" category of the Lexus Eco Challenge, a nationwide contest designed by Lexus and Scholastic to educate and empower students to take action to improve the environment. The group had a little less than five weeks to create an action-based plan to identify an issue, educate the public, and improve the environment.

The winning team of juniors and seniors called "Absolute Zero" consisted of Ryan Harris '19, Grace Roberts '20, Thomson Estabrook '19, Anna McLaughlin '20, Rafer Friedman '19, Carter Williams '20, and Peter Tarpinian '20. The students won a prize of $10,000, which provided $1,000 to each of the students; $1,000 to the teacher, Dr. Margo Andrews; and $2,000 to the School. The students would like the School's prize funds be used to purchase new LED lights, which was the focus of the project; they are making that proposal to Headmaster William Hawkey, Chief Financial Officer Graeme McWhirter, and Director of Operations Bob Jones.

The group selected the topic of "Fossil Fuels and Renewable Energy," narrowing the project to light bulbs. The students worked mostly outside of the school day to learn the difference, in terms of energy saving, made by switching from incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) to LEDs. The team received figures from McWhirter and Jones to test their data and collect results. The group also conducted a student survey and made fact sheets to educate the broader community.

The team found that by switching entirely to LEDs, the School's electric bill would drop several thousand dollars per month.

The group also compared the amount of energy the light bulbs produce per month. With incandescent light bulbs, the School uses 366,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in one month. However, with LED light bulbs, the School would use 73,200 kilowatt-hours of energy per month.

The group was one of eight high school teams to win the Lexus Eco Challenge. All of the winning teams will be invited to participate in the Final Challenge for a chance to win one of two $30,000 grand prizes. In all, $500,000 in grants and scholarships will be awarded.

According to the contest website, the goal of the Lexus Eco Challenge is to get students "involved in project-based learning, teamwork, and skill building as they identify an environmental issue that affects their community, use their critical-thinking and research skills to come up with a solution, and report on the results by way of an Action Plan."