Students feed off the sun

SOUTH GLENDALE — Carol Gregory's students at Glendale Unified's summer camp wanted to begin their solar experiments in the shade Tuesday.

"That's not going to work, will it?" the teacher said.

The students caught on quickly. Beginning with small fans, 9-year-old Cassandra Aleman experimented with solar cells in the shade and in direct sunlight. She connected another half-volt cell to the fan and noted the uptick in its rotations.

"It's at full power," she said, standing in the sun. "It's shaking from the speed."

By the end of the day, the students will have made cornbread in a solar oven. By the end of the week, they'll have taken home a solar-powered pizza box oven, powerful enough to bake cookies.

Solar cells, ovens, lunchboxes and kits are on the rise at some Glendale Unified campuses. Teachers have increasingly seen solar experiments as a way to excite students about learning and prepare them for college or careers, said April Faieta, who helped start the student-run Earth Club at Keppel Elementary School last year.

"Because of the kits, they are so student-friendly, so kid-friendly, they get so involved in it," she said. "We wanted to show them that if they can learn about solar energy at such a young age and they can teach others about it … then other people wouldn't be so intimidated learning about it."

Eight-year-old Natalie Rosales said she hadn't played with solar cells at Cerritos Elementary School, but easily powered her wind fan with a half-volt solar cell Tuesday. Solar week at Glendale Unified's early education and extended learning summer program has given her great exposure, she said.

"I didn't know about it, but now I do," Natalie said. "I'll bring it into my house."

That's part of the goal, Gregory said. Teaching youngsters about solar now helps create an environmentally friendly atmosphere throughout the community, she said.

"It's about building a green future for them," she said. "For a long time, this was hippy, liberal stuff, but now it's necessary. It's fun, and it's completely important for us to have in the future."

With temperatures in the 90s, students broke sweats during their solar exercises, but 9-year-old Joseph Sanchez said he prefers alternative energy sources to oil and other fossil fuels he's learned about at summer camp.

"You can use solar to make a lot of things, like a car or radio or fan," he said. "It's pretty cool."

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