WEST CAPE MAY — Oil and water do mix at West Cape May Elementary School, and students are also throwing in a dose of nuclear, solar, wind and coal.
Those six different energy sources are on this year’s lesson plan, which has grades three through six learning about what powers the world.
The program, using a $2,164 grant from Atlantic City Electric, will allow the students to learn the advantages and disadvantages of each type of energy, looking specifically at a variety of areas including efficiency, location and sustainability, and economic and environmental impacts.
“This will help students understand where their energy comes from and, moving forward, to find cleaner sources of energy,” said Amy Stoner, who teaches third and fourth grades.
Stoner teaches with Paige Calabro, the fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, but they have their students spread out so each energy source under study has a mixture of ages.
“The older children are helping the younger children,” Calabro said. “Some might be a little young, but we bring it down to their level. They use Google and other search engines and find good URLs that are official government websites.”
Calabro said each energy source has a group of five students working on it. They do research on computers. The company that installed solar panels at the school has been in to teach them about solar energy. The students will also take a field trip later this year to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s wind turbines and to its project on mining landfill gases.
The project ends when the student groups make presentations on their energy sources.
“That way they can feed off each other, almost like a debate,” Calabro said. “Each group presents its own program and tries to convince us which one is best. I think there will be a lot of debate for their own to be the best.”
The nuclear power group began not knowing much about that source of energy, since it isn’t part of everyday life. They discovered there were four nuclear reactors in the region. Fourth-grader Alyssa Hicks, 10, looked at aerial pictures of nuclear plants and noticed they were all next to water.
“Why do you need a clean water source for nuclear energy?’ Hicks asked.
She did more research and learned water is needed for cooling the plant and that pools of water are used to store the waste.
It’s the job of fifth-grader Marley Bingham to explore environmental impacts. Bingham, 11, is honing in on the waste issue.
“I’m still researching the waste. I found a really good website that tells you all the disadvantages to the environment.”
Fifth-grader John Brasch, 10, has the job of researching economic impacts.
“It gives the world power. People have to pay for it,” Brasch said.
Stoner prods him to delve deeper.
“How about asking the question how much it costs compared to other forms of energy?”
Sixth-grader Samuel Francis, 12, is the oldest in the nuclear group, and he may have the toughest job — trying to figure out the efficiency. He said it is “relatively efficient” creating energy, but there is a problem afterward.
“After it’s created there is a byproduct, which is nuclear waste, depleted uranium, which is radiation. It has to be stored underground for hundreds of years.”
Francis said this raises issues about impacts on soil and groundwater. He also researched how the problem affected Japan, where an earthquake caused nuclear plants to leak radioactive materials.
“Why not just throw it into space,” he pondered.
“Let’s put it on Jupiter and see what happens,” chimed in Hicks.
Stoner said that might be considered “space pollution,” a point Hicks agreed with.
Across the room filled with 30 students, Calabro helped fifth-grader Edna Ruiz, 10, learn more about oil and come up with some surprising findings, including the fact that profit margins are shrinking for oil companies in spite of the high price at the pump. Ruiz also learned about all the products made from oil, with some help from Calabro.
“What’s crude?” Ruiz asked her teacher while searching a website.
“It’s a gookey mud. They have a process of separating it. Read about the refining process.”
“So when they take it out of the ground it’s not oil yet?’ Ruiz asked.
A short time later Ruiz had learned about refining and coming up with products such as kerosene, gasoline, aviation and home heating fuel. She learned that only about 20 percent of the crude becomes fuel.
“They use oil to make plastics. I didn’t know that,” she told her teacher.
Ruiz wasn’t so sure oil is the best energy source.
“I think it’s an expensive way to get energy. They have to get it out of the ground and do all these things to it. They have to use machines to get it out of the ground and that costs money, and they only get 20 percent.”
Research by Francis seems to have sparked even more interest in energy. He was studying nuclear fission, but got interested in learning about fusion, which could offer the world an endless source of cheap and clean energy.
“For the young generation, it could be very helpful for the future,” Francis said.
Atlantic City Electric also gave a grant similar to West Cape May Elementary School’s to the Fernwood Middle School in Egg Harbor Township. Since 2009 the utility has donated more than $18,000 in educational grants.
“Atlantic City Electric supports innovative programs that educate students on topics including energy efficiency, safety and environmental protection,” said Ronnie Town, a spokeswoman for the utility.
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